Lurking between the lines on Kiev's meter-long (yard-long) ballot was the simmering confrontation between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who led the Orange Revolution together but are at odds two years before a presidential vote.
The exit poll put Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky ahead with 32.8 percent of the vote, followed by Tymoshenko ally Oleksandr Turchynov with 20.3 percent and former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitaly Klitschko with 19.8.
Chernovetsky's re-election would be a blow for Tymoshenko.
Parliament called the early election after Tymoshenko accused the mayor of illegally selling highly profitable land and withholding revenue from the national budget. Chernovetsky denied it.
Tymoshenko has vied for power and popularity with Yushchenko since they led the 2004 protests that ushered him to power. Both are pro-Western and their parties formed a governing coalition last year, but confrontations have shown it to be fragile.
Tymoshenko recently accused Yushchenko of trying to undermine her before the 2010 presidential election.
She suffered a setback when Yushchenko blocked her initiative to hold a run-off between the two top mayoral candidates if no one received more than 50 percent of the vote.
Analysts said his intention was to ensure Tymoshenko would not have an ally as Kiev mayor. Opinion polls had indicated Chernovetsky, who is popular among pensioners, could win a plurality Sunday, but a run-off could have allowed opponents to unite behind his challenger.
The vote was a rematch for Klitschko, who lost to Chernovetsky in the 2006 mayoral election. A national hero who is scheduled to try to regain his boxing title this fall, he campaigned on promises to fight corruption and end chaotic development.
In a what was seen as a bid by Chernovetsky to hurt Klitschko's chances, a nonprofit organization arranged a three-day music festival outside the city to celebrate Kiev Day, which coincided with the vote. It promised free tickets for young people, who form the boxer's power base.
Turnout was reported to be 46 percent, compared to 70 percent in 2006.
A quirky billionaire banker and ex-lawmaker, Chernovetsky has raised eyebrows with initiatives to test subordinates' honesty using lie detectors and force migrant workers out of the capital to give more opportunity to local residents.
He was involved in a scrap in January with Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a candidate from Yushchenko's bloc whom the exit poll gave 2.1 percent.
Chernovetsky accused Lutsenko of punching him in the face and groin after an argument. Lutsenko said he slapped Chernovetsky's face but contends the mayor initiated the fight by publicly defaming him and kicking him in the knee.
The exit poll was commissioned by private ICTV and conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Kiev International Institute for Sociology, which interviewed more than 10,000 voters. It said the margin of error was 2 to 3 percent.