DONETSK/LUHANSK, November 2 (RIA Novosti) — Polls opened early Sunday in the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions in east Ukraine amid Western criticism, RIA Novosti correspondents said.
Residents in the territories controlled by anti-Kiev militias are casting votes in the presidential and parliamentary elections that are to last untill 8 p.m. local time (17:00 GMT).
A total of 102 polling stations are to open in Ukraine's easternmost Luhansk province, which is fighting for full independence from the central government in Kiev. The Luhansk election commission expects the turnout to be between 52 and 58 percent. Ukrainian refugees in Russia's western regions bordering on Ukraine will be able to cast ballots at mobile polling stations.
According to the election commission's estimates, there are currently 200,000 Luhansk refugees living in Russia in addition to some 820,000 eligible voters on the Ukrainian soil.
The acting head of government in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky is largely expected to be elected as president of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR). He will compete for a four-year presidency against LPR health minister Irina Airapetyan and businessman Viktor Penner. A LPR leader will be elected for a four-year term.
Three parties are running for parliamentary seats in the Luhansk main legislative body, known as the People's Council. They are Plotnitsky's Peace to Luhanshchina, the Luhansk economic Union and the People's Union. A total of 30 seats are up for grabs, and lawmakers will be elected by party lists for four years.
The polls will be monitored by around 30 international observers from the Czech Republic, Greece, Slovakia, Serbia, Abkhazia, France, Germany, Israel and Russia.
Local polls are also underway in the adjacent Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). Polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (5:00 GMT). Both Luhansk and Donetsk republics turned their clocks one hour back on October 26 and now observe GMT+3.
Donetsk residents will vote in 364 polling stations across the region, with three mobile polling stations to be opened in Russia's Rostov, Voronezh and Belgorod regions. The data on the number of eligible voters in the DPR presidential and parliamentary elections are yet to be confirmed.
Three candidates are running for presidency in the Donetsk election: the acting prime minister, Alexander Sakharchenko, security official Yuri Sivokonenko and parliamentary deputy speaker Alexander Kofman. Parties to vie for legislative seats are called the Donetsk Republic and Free Donbas.
Both regions were earlier granted special status under a law passed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The same law also scheduled local elections for December 7, but the regional governments defied Kiev's plans for them and called own polls on November 2.
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have meanwhile condemned the upcoming elections claiming they undermined the peace agreement reached in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
Russia said earlier it is going to recognize the results of the polls since they would help to give legitimacy to the power in the region.