Under the cloud of a bitter war in their nation’s east, Ukrainians on Sunday elected the most pro-European parliament in their country’s 23-year-old history, firmly backing an effort to steer their nation away from Russia’s orbit.
The work of the new legislature will be critical to Ukraine’s prospects for overcoming its towering challenges. The election was a final step to empower President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected in May after protests toppled Ukraine’s previous leader and unleashed the worst conflict between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
The new parliament, whose ranks will include a host of new faces, will have to help Ukraine resolve difficulties that would faze even the most experienced statesman. The country’s economy is ravaged by war. A cutoff of Russian natural gas threatens to create a heating crisis as early as January. And Russian-backed rebels firmly control key portions of the country’s industrial heartland in the east.
“I am proud of my people. I am proud of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told supporters in Kiev late Sunday. “At last we will have a pro-Ukrainian, pro-European coalition.” Earlier in the day, dressed in military fatigues, he visited a polling station in Kramatorsk, an eastern Ukrainian town formerly held by rebels that is about 25 miles from the front lines.
Two exit polls showed the party led by Poroshenko carrying 22 percent to 23 percent of the vote, with the party led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk narrowly behind them. The two leaders said that they would seek to form as broad a coalition as possible, a process that could take days or weeks. Five other parties appeared to have cleared the 5 percent hurdle to make it into parliament, including a group made up of allies of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.