KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Two pro-European parties that campaigned for tough reforms to battle corruption shared the lead Monday after Ukraine’s parliamentary election, according to partial results.
With more than half the votes counted, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front was leading with 21.6 percent of the vote while President Petro Poroshenko’s party had captured 21.5 percent.
A recently formed pro-European party based in western Ukraine called Samopomich was running third with around 11 percent of the vote.
Negotiations on forming a broad reformist coalition are expected to begin immediately.
Sunday’s vote overhauled a parliament once dominated by loyalists of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who sparked months of protests that caused his ouster in February with a decision to deepen ties with Russia instead of the European Union.
Anti-Russian sentiment has spiked in Ukraine as the country battles separatists in the east whom many believe are supported by Moscow. Still, the Opposition Bloc, which pundits believe largely drew its support from Yanukovych’s once-ruling Party of Regions, put in a strong showing with around one-tenth of the vote.
International observers hailed the vote as a step forward in building democratic standards despite the unrest as the government battles separatists in eastern Ukraine. Kent Harstedt of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the ballot offered voters a real choice and showed “respect for fundamental freedoms.”
Poroshenko has laid out an ambitious agenda envisioning significant changes to Ukraine’s justice system, police, tax system, defense sector and health care to be completed by 2020. Among the tougher decisions ahead will be allowing costs of basic utilities in the cash-strapped country to float in line with market demands.
While around 36 million people were registered to vote Sunday, no voting was held on the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in March, or in parts of Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where shelling remains a daily constant.
The OSCE said there were few disturbances and isolated security incidents on election day. It noted, however, that the days before the vote saw instances of intimidation and the targeted destruction of some campaign property.
Anton Karpinsky, a 36-year old doctor in Kiev, said he was delighted that Ukraine will now have a pro-Western government.
“Our revolution and fight was not in vain,” Karpinsky said. “The election shows that Ukrainian sees it future in Europe and NATO, and we will get there step by step.”
Stepan Burko, a 67-year old retiree whose $140 monthly pension barely covers food bills, said difficult times remain ahead, despite Poroshenko’s efforts to radiate optimism.
“The only certain winners in Ukraine are slogans. But it is much more difficult to overcome poverty and war,” Burko said. “If it weren’t for my children’s help, I would go hungry. These are the problems the new authorities should tackle.”
Some hoped that a strong government could negotiate an end to the war.
“The main thing is to put a stop to the war. We are so tired of killings, shelling and weapons,” said Tatyana Rublevskaya, a 48-year-old shopkeeper.