Ukraine ruling party wins vote, observers critical
KIEV, Ukraine - Ukraine's ruling party Monday retained its parliamentary majority, as the country's fragmented opposition failed to make significant gains in an election that international observers have called a "step backwards" for democracy in the former Soviet country.
With three-quarters of the ballots in Sunday's election counted, the pro-Russian Regions Ukraine party of President Viktor Yanukovych won 33 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said.
Regions officials have already claimed victory. The party's Communist allies, meanwhile, won 14 percent.
The results showed lower support for the three main opposition parties. The commission said the opposition Motherland party, headed by jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, received 23 percent of the vote.
UDAR, an anti-corruption party led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, was estimated to have garnered about 13 percent, and the nationalist Freedom party 9 percent.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement the election was stacked in favour of the Yanukovych administration.
"The October 28 elections were characterized by lack of level playing field, primarily by the use of administrative resources, insufficient transparency during the campaign and for party financing, and lack of balanced media coverage," it said. "It constituted a step backwards compared with recent elections."
The statement said the vote itself generally went smoothly and for the most part in accordance with democratic principles, with the exception of ballot counting. The statement said: "Calculation was assessed negatively, as it lacked transparency."
Walburga Habsburg Douglas, OSCE special mission coordinator, said money had played an "enormous role" in the election.
"Hundreds of candidates were excluded on technical reasons ... and it should not be the case that one should have to go to a prison to visit a leader of Ukraine's opposition," she said, referring to Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence on charges that she abused power while serving as prime minister, said she would go on a hunger strike to protest the election results.
If the numbers are borne out by the final ballot counts, Regions and the Communists would retain a majority in parliament, but would need the support of independent parliament members, observers said.
The counts were for 225 seats in the 450-seat legislature. The remaining 225 seats are to be allocated in individual district races.
The commission said the Regions party was on track to obtain about 110-115 seats in those individual contests, with the strongest support in the country's Russian-speaking eastern and southern provinces.
The western and northern provinces, as well as the capital Kiev, rejected Regions but no single opposition party dominated in popularity, partial counts showed. Election observers reported cases of ballot box-tampering, vote buying, casting of multiple ballots and physical assaults on independent observers.
Voter turnout was 58 percent, the election commission said.