Counting is underway in Ukraine in the presidential election first round.
Exit polls have confirmed that the two leading candidates who will go forward to February’s second round are former prime minister Viktor Yanukovic, and current prime minister Yulia Tymochenko.
Yanukovic has a slim lead, but Tymochenko is confident she will scoop the lion’s share of votes for the other candidates next month. Former central banker Serghiy Tigipko, who some had tipped to reach the second round, came third.
Tymochenko has already accused Yanukovich of perpetrating massive fraud, and has sent hundreds of Georgian election observers into his eastern Ukraine power base, where some have been ejected from polling stations by police.
It is quite a political comeback for a man who five years ago lost the presidency under the shadow of fraud and a popular rising against him.
Tymochenko had been hoping to take first place in the first round, and to ensure victory she will now have to embark on restoring unity in the anti-Yanukovic camp.
One person who has ruled out working with her is the outgoing president and hero of 2004’s Orange revolution Viktor Yushchenko. He brought her to prominence and made her his prime minister, but now accuses her of being a Moscow stooge. It is hard to see with only six percent of the vote where he goes now.
The big problem for Ukraine is that until normal politics beds down and the country’s legal system is strengthened, any result may be contested, worsening Ukraine’s political paralysis.