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Vote to set Ukraine on new path

October 25, 2014

Ukrainians are preparing to go to the polls in snap elections that are expected to dramatically change the make-up of the country's parliament. Polls put incumbent President Petro Poroshenko's bloc in the lead.

Image: Reuters

Speaking on the eve of Sunday's poll, President Petro Poroshenko (pictured l. above with ally Vitaly Klitschko) urged voters to elect a majority that would allow Ukraine to break with the Soviet past and push forward with a pro-Europe reform agenda.

"You will see, this will be an entirely new parliament," he said in a televised address on Saturday, adding that the assembly to lead for the next five years should be "reforming, not corrupt, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European, not pro-Soviet."

Almost 36 million Ukrainians in a country of 45 million are registered to vote in the elections - the first parliamentary vote since Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in February. Poroshenko, who was subsequently elected president by a landslide in May, called Sunday's snap vote in a bid to clear the parliament of Yanukovych loyalists and boost the legitimacy of Kyiv's pro-Western leadership.

Poroshenko said the election would "complete the transfer of power" started by activists who forced a change of leadership after occupying Kyiv's independence square for several months last winter.

Wide pro-European support

Surveys in the lead-up to the vote showed that a majority of Ukrainians support economic and democratic reforms, as well as moves to stamp out corruption and join the European Union.

Polls show the new 450-seat assembly will likely be dominated by pro-Europe parties, including Poroshenko's political bloc - which consists of the president's Solidarity party and the Udar party led by Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko . Yanukovych's Regions Party is not running, and there are expectations its ally, the Communist party, may not win any representation for the first time since Ukrainian independence in 1991.

The new parliament will have one month to create a majority, which must then form a new government.

Voting in the conflict zone

Turnout is expected to be much lower in conflict-ridden parts of eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych's former support base, and there are fears residents that live there won't have their voices heard.

"The concern of whether this will be a free but also fair election, that is definitely one of the issues we are looking at," said Kent Harstedt, a coordinator for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly's observer mission.

For months, pro-Russian separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for control of towns in the eastern Donbass region. At least 3,700 people have been killed in the violence, which has continued despite a ceasefire deal struck in September.

As a result of the conflict, 27 of the parliament seats in fighting areas won't be filled. According to officials, about half of the district election commissions around rebel-held Luhansk and Donetsk will remain closed on Sunday because of security concerns, and police have warned people to be alert to possible unrest around polling stations.

In his Saturday speech to voters, Poroshenko vowed to find a way to end the conflict in the east without resorting to military force.

"We can only get those territories back by a political settlement and not by military means. Nobody will stop me from seeking a peaceful way out of the situation," he said.

nm/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters)