KIEV, Ukraine — Pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych declared victory in Ukraine’s presidential runoff but his opponent rejected the claim, saying the vote was too close to call.
Exit polls showed Yanukovych — the main foe of protesters in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution — with a narrow lead in Sunday’s vote over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key figure in those pro-democracy protests.
Ukraine’s Central Election Commission reported Monday that Yanukovych was ahead 49.2 per cent to 45.2 per cent with 61.7 per cent of the vote counted.
If the result stands, a Yanukovych victory could restore much of Moscow’s influence in a country that has laboured to build bridges to the West and closes a chapter in the country’s political history that has been defined by the Orange protests.
Polls show that most Ukrainian voters still support the economic and political goals of the 2004 Orange revolt, but many are deeply disillusioned with the failure of its leaders to carry out promised reforms.
“From this day, a new path opens up for Ukraine,” Yanukovych declared late Sunday, vowing to “take the country down the path of change.”
Three major exit polls showed Yanukovych winning by a few percentage points but Tymoshenko said they were unreliable because the race was so close.