World / Europe

Ukraine votes for new president; polling disrupted in east

By Agencies in Kiev/Donetsk, Ukraine (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-26 07:08

Ukrainians voted on Sunday in a presidential election billed as the most important since they won their independence from Moscow 23 years ago, although separatists disrupted voting in eastern regions of the former Soviet republic.

Early signs pointed to a high turnout in an election where the main candidates, including front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a confectionery magnate, are promising closer ties with the West in defiance of Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

But the absence of over 15 percent of the electorate - in Russian-annexed Crimea and the largely pro-Russian eastern regions of Donetsk and Lughansk - may mar the result and leave many questioning the poll's legitimacy.

The rebels, who have declared the Donetsk and Luhansk regions independent, have pledged not to allow the vote, which they described as an election in "a neighboring country". They have seized or blocked election offices and prevented election officials and voters from proceeding with the poll.

Voting in the rest of Ukraine started at 8 am and finished 12 hours later, with the official outcome to be announced on Monday.

Ukrainian election officials said they have received only 26 percent of the election registers for the Donetsk region and 16 percent for the Lughansk region.

'Chocolate king'

Polls make Poroshenko, known as the "Chocolate King" because of his confectionery empire, overwhelming favorite to win Sunday's election. The biggest question is whether he can with the more than 50 percent needed to win outright. If not, a run-off vote will be held on June 15.

He was a strong backer of the protests against Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich over the winter and has sought a quick victory by warning that new unrest might prevent a second round.

His closest, if distant, rival is Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister. She remains a divisive figure to many, more closely linked than Poroshenko with the economic failures and graft that have blighted post-Soviet Ukraine.

"It is time to hold a referendum on joining NATO to restore peace in Ukraine," said Tymoshenko after voting in her native city of Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine. Russia is fiercely opposed to Ukraine joining the Western military alliance.

As Yanukovich's fiercest rival, Tymoshenko may benefit from the fact that few of the 6 million voters in his eastern power base regions of Donetsk and Luhansk will take part in the vote.

The West has backed the interim government since mass street protests toppled Moscow-backed Yanukovich in February.

However, Russia characterized the toppling of Yanukovich as a "fascist coup", pointing to the involvement of armed activists from the Right Sector, a prominent neo-Nazi group.

On Saturday, Putin pledged to "respect" the people's choice in the presidential election and work with Ukraine's new administration. He made the conciliatory statement during an economic forum, at which he admitted EU and US sanctions were hurting Russia.


(China Daily 05/26/2014 page11)

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