Yanukovich leads in Ukrainian presidential runoff

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Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich beat incumbent Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by a narrow margin in the country's presidential runoff on Sunday, according to exit poll results.

Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich makes a statement for the results of exit polls after the second round of Presidential elections in his headquarters in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2010. [Mu Liming/Xinhua] 

An exit poll conducted by the Inter TV showed that Yanukovich won 49.6 percent while his female challenger secured 44.5 percent. Most of the others voted for the "Against all" category. Yanukovich also led in several other exit polls, though invariably by small margin as little as three percent.

In an exit poll also ordered by Inter and conducted by two sociological companies, FOM-Ukraine and the Ukrainian Sociology Service, 49.78 percent said they voted for Yanukovych, 44.63 percent for Tymoshenko and 5.59 percent against both.

Another exit poll carried out by the Research & Branding group showed that 50.26 percent of the vote was given to Yanukovich, while 44.02 percent of the votes went to Tymoshenko.

The exit poll is a rough indicator of the final electoral results. Official voting counts will be announced by the Central Election Commission by Feb. 17.

Yanukovich's supporters said they believe the final results will conform with the exit poll projections, but Tymoshenko's camp insisted it was too early to call it a day.

Yanukovich, a 59-year-old mechanic engineering by training, seemed to be sure of victory. Speaking on the Inter TV channel on Sunday night, he advised Tymoshenko to start to prepare for her resignation from the post of prime minister.

"I think that Yulia Vladimirovna (Tymoshenko) should be preparing for resignation. She understands this well. In any case I think that such an offer will be made to her," he said.

"Of course, I will work on creating a coalition in the parliament. I am likely to nominate a person who I want to work with for prime minister," he said.

If elected, Yanukovich will become the country's fourth president since the former Soviet Union republic won independence in 1991.

But Tymoshenko said that it is impossible to speak about election results resting solely on exit-polls, the Interfax reported. "Results announced at the level of exit-polls are mere sociology. That is why now it is too early to make any conclusions," she was quoted as saying on Sunday night.

"It is impossible to speak about any result until all protocols are counted. We will struggle for every vote," Tymoshenko said, pointing out that her political force, the Yulia Tymohsenko Bloc, is counting votes independently.

Even before the final battle started, evidence has been mounting that loser of the election would contest the results and might take supporters to street protests, particularly if the winning margins are too small. The candidates have repeatedly traded allegations of election violations.

Headquarters of the Regions Party, headed by Yanukovich, had asked the Kiev city administration for permission to stage a massive rally outside the Central Election Commission building in the capital on Monday. The application is for the rally of 50,000 participants, said Volodymyr Mayevskiy, head of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's Public Security Department, on Sunday.

Tymoshenko has also hinted that she would stage a replay of the Orange Revolution, in which mass protests stripped Yanukovich of an initial victory in 2004 and propelled Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Yanukovich, considered a pro-Russian politician, seeks mutually beneficial and friendly foreign policies, in contrast to outgoing President Yushchenko's active pursuit of NATO membership and anti- Russian policies. He has spoken about shelving the NATO accession bid, but also proposed a gradual integration of his country into Europe.

Besides a change in foreign policy orientations, the new Ukrainian president faces a more imminent task of reforming its domestic economy. Ukraine, a country of 46 million, has been stuck in dire economic recession in the past few years. The International Monetary Fund figures show its GDP shrunk by 14 percent in 2009. Industrial output dropped by 21.9 percent year on year in 2009, the Ukrainian national statistics indicated.

The other candidate Tymoshenko, born in November 1960, will see her political fortune changed if she ends up being the underdog.

Tymoshenko rose to the international political podium from an alliance with Yushchenko in the "Orange Revolution". She became Ukraine's first female prime minister in 2005, but the short-lived political honeymoon with Yushchenko only lasted eight months. She was re-appointed prime minister in 2007.

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