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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Vote a Case of Recount Deja Vu

ReutersYulia Tymoshenko sharing a laugh with ally Yuriy Lutsenko in Kiev on Monday.
KIEV -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered an investigation into vote counting on Monday after his chief political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, drew ahead in a parliamentary election called to end a long political crisis.

The country's Western-leaning Orange opposition, allied to Yushchenko, had claimed victory in Sunday's election based on exit polls and early returns.

But Yanukovych's Party of the Regions surged past the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with more than three-quarters of the vote counted.

Yushchenko, the prime minister's main competitor from the time of the Orange Revolution protests that thrust him to power in 2004, ordered an immediate investigation into delays in vote counting in Yanukovych's strongholds.

"I am concerned by the delayed vote count in eastern and southern Ukraine," a somber Yushchenko said in a televised address to the nation. "I order law enforcement bodies to start an immediate investigation into the causes and circumstances of delayed vote count reports from polling stations."

Yushchenko did not mention any of his political adversaries by name but warned that, "Those who commit fraud will be punished. Do not call into question the law and your own fate."

Yanukovych, meanwhile, urged supporters to uphold what he said was his party's first place finish in the election and the right to head the country's government.

"We must now declare firmly that we are ready to defend our choice and that we will accept no revision of the election results," he said after Yushchenko ordered the investigation.

"We have won and I am confident that, yet again, we will form a government of people's trust, a government of national unity. ... In line with all international standards, the Party of the Regions has every right to form a government."

Vote rigging triggered the 2004 protests that overwhelmed Kiev for weeks in the aftermath of a presidential election initially won by Yanukovych. The Supreme Court annulled the vote and ordered a new vote, which was won by Yushchenko.

Orange groups, led by Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc, had opened a lead in exit polls and in the early stages of the count, and there had been some early declarations of victory.

Yanukovych dismissed the declarations as groundless, saying his party would be declared the winner when the count was complete.

In a statement issued as the count proceeded, Yanukovych said, "Orange supporters have made premature conclusions and are striving to divide the country and its people even further."

Exit polls and forecasts, he said, showed party in first place.

With 80 percent of the vote counted, the Party of the Regions had pulled ahead with 32.6 percent of the vote, boosted by a further 5.2 percent for its Communist allies.

Tymoshenko's bloc had 31.8 percent of the vote, with 14.9 percent going to Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense. Even before it became clear that Yanukovych's party had moved ahead, leading figures in the Orange camp had begun accusing the prime minister's allies of cheating.

A close result would again mean long talks on forming a coalition government.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised the poll for offering voters "a diverse choice of 20 political parties and electoral blocs." It said freedom of assembly and expression had been respected and that election day had proved calm.