Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s party looks like it will fall well short of majority control of the country’s parliament after Sunday’s elections, but two polls indicate the pro-western group of legislators may wind up with the largest bloc of seats.
The Rating Group Ukraine exit poll said the Poroshenko Bloc won 22.2% of the votes and that Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front party came in second at 21.8%. Another exit poll, organized by three Ukrainian research groups, gave the Poroshenko Bloc a slightly wider margin, winning 23% to the Popular Front’s 21.3%.
Official results are expected Monday.
Despite the leading groups’ differences, they both share pro-Western postures and campaigned on reform agendas aimed at distancing the country from Russian influence and improving Ukraine’s shattered economy.
It also marks a collective departure from the policies of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in February after he tried to broker trade deals with Russia instead of the European Union. Yanukovych’s moves came over the objections of protesters angered about Russia’s encroachment on Ukrainian territory. Poroshenko was elected on a platform of closer relations with the West and an end to a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev and Moscow blame each other for the ongoing fighting that has killed more than 3,000 people, and hostilities between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces continue in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire. The continued fighting has soured many Ukrainians on Russia’s influence.
The divisions were evident by the fact that votes were not cast in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March, or in the eastern regions, where the skirmishes continue. Non-government watchdog Opora estimated that 2.8 million people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east — more than half the potential 5 million voters there — would not cast their ballots. Separatists in the two regions had called for a boycott of the election and scheduled a Nov. 2 vote for separation from Ukraine. The government in Kiev says that election would be illegal.
Andrei Voitenko, a 40-year-old teacher casting his ballot at a school in the capital, Kiev, said a new parliament would have to work toward repaying the high price paid by his fellow Ukrainians.
“We are overhauling the government because Ukraine and Ukrainians have made a European choice,” Voitenko said. “Now we need a new parliament to make a European future. We have drawn a line under our Soviet past.”