KIEV (AFP) — Ukraine's pro-Western parties appeared set for a tight victory Monday in parliamentary elections, but faced tough coalition talks and a warning from their Moscow-backed rival not to celebrate too soon.
Preliminary results in the ex-Soviet republic's snap election Sunday indicated a win for the combined forces of President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, joint leaders of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution, were ahead of arch adversary Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is seen as closer to Ukraine's former ruler Russia.
Tymoshenko, a firebrand leader famous for her golden braided hairdo, is gunning to replace Yanukovych, but the premier sounded a defiant note.
"Nothing confirms the Orange forces' victory," he said on Channel Five television. "There aren't official results yet and to draw conclusions on exit polls is irresponsible."
About 3,000 flag-waving supporters of Yanukovych's Regions Party gathered on Kiev's main Independence Square for what was billed as a victory rally.
The election was called early to put an end to a debilitating power struggle between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, who secured the premier's post after a strong performance in parliamentary elections staged just 18 months ago.
Preliminary results based on 77.45 percent of ballots cast gave Yanukovych's Region's Party 32.2 percent, followed by the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc with 32.1 percent, and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine with 15.08.
The combined total for Orange parties was over 47 percent. Even if Yanukovych formed a coalition with all remaining parties in the parliament he would only reach 45 percent.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko were at the heart of the Orange Revolution alliance, which overturned a rigged presidential election win by Yanukovych. Yushchenko triumphed in the rerun but the alliance was swiftly undone by infighting.
Its return would mark a sensational comeback.
"The Orange Revolution has been saved by Tymoshenko's election results. She saved it from oblivion," said Taras Kuzio, a Ukraine specialist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Tymoshenko said she wanted to form a new government with Yushchenko within 48 hours.
But they had yet to set up a formal coalition and analysts cautioned that almost any twist is possible in Ukraine's turbulent politics.
Ukraine, which has held three national polls in as many years and suffered months of constitutional paralysis, is notorious for the complexity and rancour of political deal-making.
The glamorous Tymoshenko briefly held the premier's post during the post-Orange Revolution period, before falling out with Yushchenko.
Nico Lange, at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kiev, warned that Yanukovych's Regions Party might challenge the results.
"They will go to court and they will try to mobilise protests against the election," said
However, the main Western monitoring group, the OSCE, gave Sunday's election a clean bill of health.
"The elections met levels of well-accepted European standards," said Adrian Severin, a European Parliament member in the observer team.
Washington, the European Union and an increasingly assertive Kremlin are all vying for influence in this strategically placed country, which has expressed interest in joining both the European Union and NATO.
Ukraine straddles key Russian gas export routes to energy-hungry EU clients.
It is also a testing ground for Western-style economic and political reforms in the former Soviet Union, where many countries are now headed by authoritarian governments.
Russia had strongly backed Yanukovych and saw the pro-Western Orange Revolution as a crushing foreign policy defeat.
In Moscow's first reaction, Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin told AFP late Sunday that "we will work with any government" in Kiev.
But Russia's state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta cast doubt on the viability of an Orange victory.
"Serious political battles are only beginning," the newspaper wrote, predicting "a flood of information about violations."
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