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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainians Urged to Vote for Real Change

APUkrainian President Viktor Yushchenko waiting for his turn to cast a ballot at a polling station in Kiev on Sunday.
KIEV -- As Ukrainians voted for a new parliament Sunday, President Viktor Yushchenko characterized the elections as a choice between real change and the illusion of stability.

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was hoping that bedrock support in Ukraine's industrial east would allow his party to once again win the most votes and form a majority in the parliament.

Yushchenko was relying on a last-minute alliance with opposition crusader Yulia Tymoshenko. If their parties win more votes combined than Yanukovych's, they will be able to form a majority coalition in the parliament and unseat him as prime minister.

"The choice is between two alternatives -- false stability and change," Yushchenko said after casting his ballot. "I'm convinced that today the nation will opt for change. I think that the elections will bring Ukraine mutual understanding and tolerance between political forces, stability and economic growth."

While forging a coalition with Tymoshenko could take weeks of bargaining -- and Yanukovych would not give up power easily -- Yushchenko dismissed concerns about a tense standoff after the vote.

"There will be emotions, but these will just be episodes," Yushchenko said. "I'm sure that the political community will find mutual understanding."

Tymoshenko's message Sunday was the same. "I'm convinced that these elections will end the crisis," she said.

The polls were to close at 10 p.m. for the country's 37.5 million registered voters.

Grigory Dukor / Reuters
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych leaving a voting booth in Kiev on Sunday.
Opinion polls predicted that Yanukovych's Party of the Regions would receive the biggest share of votes, with Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko in second place. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense, hampered by voter disappointment with his failure to fulfill reformist promises that brought him to power in 2005, is expected to wind up third.

Yanukovych, a former metal worker, has undergone a dramatic transformation since his defeat in the 2004 presidential race, when Ukrainians took to the streets in mass protests against election fraud, paving the way for Yushchenko's victory in a court-ordered rerun.

Yanukovych made a stunning comeback in the March 2006 parliamentary elections when his party won the most votes, propelling him back into the premiership. He sought to change his image, casting himself as a democrat and preaching compromise and stability.

"I'm sure we will win," a smiling Yanukovych said after casting his ballot.

Meeting later with observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he offered assurances that Ukraine's foreign policy would not change.

"Ukraine will continue to serve as a reliable bridge between East and West," Yanukovych said. "Ukraine's European perspective remains unchanged."

Yanukovych agreed to Yushchenko's April decision to dissolve the parliament and call new elections only grudgingly and has hinted that he would accept only one outcome: his victory.

Yanukovych has accused Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's parties of preparing widespread falsifications and warned that he could organize protests similar to those during the Orange Revolution. He said his party would not accept an "unlawful" outcome.

"If the Orange try to steal our victory, we will be able to defend it," said Andriy Zhigalov, a 50-year-old bookkeeper, who cast his ballot for Yanukovych's party at a Kiev polling station.

While Yushchenko's position has weakened, Tymoshenko has won many of his supporters.

"She always gets her point across. She's always true to herself -- today she's the same as two or three years ago," Tymoshenko supporter Pyotr Shekhvits, a 53-year-old medical worker, said after voting for her bloc.