In an election condemned by international observers, Ukraine's ruling party was last night set for victory against an opposition group aligned to jailed ex-premier Yuliya Tymoshenko.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov predicted that Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's Regions Party would win an outright majority in the new parliament following a poor performance by the opposition, which included a liberal party headed by the reigning world heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klichko.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued an unusually strong statement calling the election a step backwards for Ukraine. "Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine," said OSCE special coordinator Walburga Habsburg Douglas.
"One should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country."
Ukraine's 2010 presidential election - which saw Yanukovych defeat Tymoshenko amid disappointment over the fruits of the 2004 Orange Revolution popular uprising - had been hailed by observers as the cleanest ever in the ex-Soviet Union.
Yesterday, Tymoshenko's party said it had conducted a parallel count which showed the Regions Party leading her faction by just over four per cent - an outcome which had also been predicted by exit polls.
She then announced she was going on hunger strike at the state hospital where she is being held while she receives treatment for a back condition.
"These elections were falsified from start to finish," Tymoshenko said, adding the action would last "until the true results are established".
State officials gave Yanukovych's Regions Party 34.2 per cent of the proportional representation votes against 22.5 per cent for the opposition group, with about a third still to count. These votes account for half the 450 parliamentary seats. In first-past-the-post votes, it was on course to claim 114 out of 225 seats.