Ukraine's Pro-West Parties Poised For Victory

KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Western parties in Ukraine were poised for a small but landmark victory Wednesday after a cliffhanger parliamentary vote, with their Moscow-backed opponents scratching for the final few seats.

The pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovych does not appear to be a "happy camper" as the pro-Western coalition maintains a slim lead with over 99% of the votes counted.

With less than one percent of ballots left to count after Sunday's snap election, the Orange Revolution alliance of President Viktor Yushchenko and firebrand reformist Yulia Tymoshenko held an almost unassailable lead.

Timoshenko's party garnered 30.80 percent of the votes and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine/People's Self Defence came in third with 14.24 percent, the figures showed.

Their arch rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, had not yet conceded defeat.

But his Regions Party, while the biggest in parliament with more than 34.24 percent of the vote, lagged well behind the combined tally of 45.03 percent for the Orange coalition.

Yanukovych's hopes of assembling a ruling coalition with smaller parties appeared dashed by the almost certain failure of the Socialists -- key allies -- to clear the three percent mark for entering parliament.

With 99.02 percent of all votes counted, the Socialists had only 2.88 percent of the vote. Zhanna Usenko-Chorna, a member of the Central Election Commission, said that was unlikely to change.

"The Socialists' results have fallen through the day and we do not have evidence to say that their percentage can rise," Usenko-Chorna said on Channel Five television.

Without the Socialists, the biggest alliance Yanukovych could form would still trail behind its pro-Western rivals.

The communists won 5.37 percent and another small party, the unaligned Lytvyn Bloc, 3.95 percent.

A senior official at the president's office said there would not be much of a difference in size between the pro-Western and pro-Russia bloc but added he was "85 to 90 percent sure" the Orange alliance would have a majority.

"Maybe not a huge majority but an edge of two or three seats to be able to form a coalition," he said.

He told journalists that a formal coalition, under which Tymoshenko would become prime minister, should be announced "by the end of the week."

This would mark a stunning comeback for the glamorous figurehead of the pro-democracy 2004 Orange Revolution -- and a likely source of new friction with Ukraine's Soviet-era ruler Russia.

The Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom issued a warning Tuesday that gas supplies would be cut next month if Ukraine failed to pay debts, a threat that worried EU customers depending on the former Soviet republic for transit.

The EU Commission called for a "swift settlement" to the dispute.

Although Gazprom insists that its policies are based entirely on business needs, critics accuse the giant exporter of bullying former Soviet republics that get too close to the West.

The timing of the warning, just as results pointed to a possible victory by pro-Western parties in Ukraine, was suspicious, a source closely connected to the government told AFP.

"It could be Russia's way of saying that if Tymoshenko doesn't give up her prime ministerial ambitions she could have very big problems," said the source, who did not want to be identified.

Meanwhile, accusations of fraud mounted as rival parties watched the tense final vote count.

Tymoshenko told journalists her opponents were "using fraud, bribery" to give the Socialists the necessary last few votes needed to win seats.

Earlier, Yushchenko ordered a police investigation into possible ballot fraud in the east of the country, Yanukovych's stronghold.

A Regions Party official in the Kiev district claimed Tymoshenko supporters had added 30,000 votes to her score in one district.

The Communist Party leader, Petro Symonenko, described the election as "the dirtiest ever" and demanded a "complete recount," Interfax reported.

However, the main Western monitoring group, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, earlier gave Sunday's election a generally clean bill of health.

Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are all vying for influence in this strategic country, which has expressed interest in joining the European Union and NATO.

But Moscow has been at odds with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko ever since the Orange Revolution, a major defeat for Russian foreign policy, when Yanukovych was forced to rerun his rigged presidential election win.

Yushchenko won the rerun and Tymoshenko became prime minister, before internal fighting led to her dismissal and opened the door to Yanukovych.

Source: AFP