Ukraine crisis: Poll gets under way amid imperfect truce

Kiev parliament to welcome new parties but security fears leave east disenfranchised

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The Independent Online

Ukraine votes in parliamentary elections today against a backdrop of conflict between government troops and pro-Russian separatist forces in its eastern regions.

Campaigning material was being taken down across the country in line with election laws, before a vote that most observers expect will be dominated by President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc. The former ruling party of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych is likely to disappear from the legislature.

Parties expected to enter parliament share a broadly pro-Western line, and have manifestos to tackle corruption. But scepticism remains strong towards a political elite that many Ukrainians continue to see as self-serving.

 

In areas near the main focus of fighting the mood was subdued and turnout is expected to be low. The east is where Mr Yanukovych drew most of his support and one worry is that the voice of the population in this region could go unheard.

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

In government-controlled Mariupol, an industrial port city near rebel-held areas in the eastern Donetsk region, residents revealed a blend of nervousness and resignation on the eve of the vote.

Despite a truce since early September, shells fall almost daily in nearby areas, pushing thoughts of the future to the back of people’s minds. Authorities worry that rebels may seek to derail the election.

Almost 36 million people have been registered to vote nationwide. Poll officials say 15 out of 32 district election commissions in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk will not operate due to security concerns. With the loss of Crimea, annexed by Russia, only 423 deputies, out of 450 seats, are likely to be elected.

Mariupol has become a safe haven for families fleeing areas under rebel control. Ambivalence over the relative merits of the warring sides fighting nearby is commonplace in the mostly Russian-speaking city of 450,000 people.

Vladislav Slobodyanin, 40, said many previous supporters of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic now support Ukrainian unity. “Most people who were for the DPR have changed their mind now,” he said. “I know people who were fervent DPR supporters. Now they think differently. They see what it can lead to.”

Political experts believe many erstwhile supporters of Mr Yanukovych’s Party of Regions will instead cast their vote for the Opposition Bloc, which includes prominent figures from the former ruling group. However, it may not secure enough votes to reach the 5 per cent threshold required to enter parliament. (AP)

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