Ukraine's ex-PM bounces back

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The Independent Online

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich was on course to clear the first round of voting in the Ukrainian presidential elections last night. Unofficial exit polls released before the close of polls revealed that the man whose corruption sparked the Orange Revolution was on track for a dramatic comeback, with 36.6 per cent of the vote. The same unconfirmed report, carried by the Russian Echo of Moscow Radio Station, put his arch rival Yulia Timoshenko on 26.4 per cent.

If the reports are accurate, that would be the result both candidates were expecting. Although it gives the Party of the Regions leader Mr Yanukovich his anticipated 10 per cent lead, Mr Timoshenko will not feel the gap between them is insurmountable.

The full count of actual votes will take several days, and the true extent of Mr Yanukovich's lead may not be confirmed for up to a week. Five years ago contradictions between the various exit polls and the final vote count prompted accusations of fraud and eventually brought thousands of people on to the streets in what became known as the Orange revolution.

That spirit has faded in the five years since. But despite much talk of political disillusion, and the trading of wild allegations about attempts to rig the polls, Kiev's polling stations were busy yesterday afternoon, and election workers said they had seen a high turnout.

"From what I've seen, people are very keen to vote; they want something new in the country, and they want to vote for their candidates," said Ludmilla Shaton, the head of a polling station in central Kiev. She said she had seen no violations and was not expecting to encounter any attempted falsifications.