KIEV (AFP) – A divided Ukraine voted Sunday in parliamentary elections expected to back Presi-dent Petro Poroshenko’s pro-Western reforms and test support for his plan to negotiate with pro-Russian insurgents threatening to break up the country.
Reformers and nationalists supporting a drive to steer Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influ-ence were expected to dominate, with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc the biggest party, although needing partners to form a ruling coalition.
The snap election came eight months after a street revolt overthrew Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, sparking conflict with Russia and a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine’s Western allies.
The war with pro-Russian rebels in the indus-trial east, in which 3,700 people have died, and Russia’s earlier annexation of the southern Cri-mean region, overshadowed the election.
Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk provinces – about five million of Ukraine’s 36.5 million-strong electorate – were unable to vote.
Twenty seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty.
Dressed in camouflage, Poroshenko helicop-tered in for a surprise visit to Kramatorsk, a government-held town in the heart of the conflict zone.
The dramatic gesture was clearly meant to show that the beleaguered region has not been forgotten.
However, the disenfranchisement of the sepa-ratist areas and Crimea seemed likely to further cement the once peaceful, but now bloody faultline between Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.
After casting a vote for the radical nationalist Svoboda party in the capital Kiev, Tatyana Krysh-ko, 75, reflected the grim national mood.
“I know things will be hard financially. I think that we won’t live to see a rich and strong Ukraine, but that our children and grandchildren will,” she told AFP.
Polls show a majority of Ukrainians support economic and democratic reforms – especially a crackdown on corruption – leading eventually to European Union membership.
On the eve of voting, Poroshenko promised “an entirely new parliament” that was “reforming, not corrupt, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European, not pro-Soviet”.
For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was not expected to clear the five-per-cent barrier for entering parliament under proportional representation.