Ukraine’s ruling Party of Regions on Monday remained confident about its chances of clinching victory in the country’s parliamentary elections.
With half the ballots counted as of early afternoon Monday, President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions had secured 35 percent of the vote.
“It is clear that the Party of the Regions has won. These elections signal confidence in the president’s policies,” Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told reporters late on Sunday, adding that the vote was free and fair.
This election has been seen as an opportunity for Ukraine to showcase its commitment to democracy, after the widespread international criticism it has received in recent months.
Critics in the West and the human rights community say the jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for seven years over a 2009 gas deal with Russia was politically motivated. They have also accused him of restricting media freedoms and pushing through legislation that gives his Party of Regions an unfair electoral advantage.
Monday’s figures appeared to hand the party a parliamentary majority, despite an increase in support for other parties.
The United Opposition, anchored by jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party, had pulled in about 21 percent of the vote as of midday Monday.
Boxer Vitaly’s Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), which campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption and European integration, seemed on Monday to have won about 12 percent of the vote.
Support for both Tymoshenko’s United Opposition and Klitschko’s UDAR have shot up in recent months, in stark parallel to the plummeting ratings for the Yanukovych administration.
Results so far appear to indicate that these opposition parties still have a fighting chance of breaking the ruling party’s hold on power: members of both parties have said they plan to work together in the new parliament.
“This clearly shows that the people of Ukraine support the opposition, not the government,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a United Opposition leader, after the vote.
He and other opposition members claim the Party of Regions have used various tactics to skew the vote in their favor, from multiple voting to vote buying.
International election observers are due to present their findings later on Monday.
But The Communist Party of Ukraine, which as of midday Monday had received about 14 percent of the vote, is expected to join forces with the Party of Regions in the new parliament.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Sunday’s vote has been the unexpected degree of support for the nationalist All-Ukrainian Union Freedom party, which as of Monday afternoon had appeared to clinch about 8 percent of the vote.
This party, which positions itself as an advocate for the interests of ethnic Ukrainians and enjoys widespread support in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, has stirred controversy over what critics and opponents say are its xenophobic and anti-Semitic views.
Pre-election polls did not predict the party would gain the 5 percent needed to enter parliament. Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok welcomed these results, but warned against “celebrating early.”
The other parties remain unsure of how they will deal with the Freedom party if it makes it into parliament. Klitschko told reporters late Sunday he was willing to work with all opposition parties, but expressed concern over “what smells like right-wing radicalism.”