Update (9:54 PM EST): Billionaire chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko wins Ukrainian presidency
The Guardian reports:
The pro-European businessman Petro Poroshenko has won a landmark presidential election in Ukraine with 56% of the vote, according to exit polls, clearing the 50% threshold to win outright without a second round. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was trailing far behind, with about 13%.
Ukrainians flocked to the polling stations on Sunday in what was seen as the most important election since independence. Millions of citizens in the restive east, however, did not vote at all, either because of separatist sympathies, feelings of intimidation by pro-Russian militias or simply a lack of polling stations.
"Today we can definitely say all of Ukraine has voted, this is a national vote," said Poroshenko from his campaign headquarters shortly after the exit polls were released. "The first steps that we will take at beginning of presidential office should be focused on stopping the war, to put an end to this chaos and bring peace to a united Ukraine." Poroshenko promised to hold parliamentary elections before the end of the year. "When there is a parliamentarian crisis, the only solution in a democracy is early elections," he said.
In what has proven to be a contentious day across Ukraine, on Sunday citizens across the country were given the chance to cast their ballot for the next democratically elected president following the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych.
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The winner is expected to take the reigns from the interim government, led by acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, who called the snap elections.
The election has drawn international attention with over 3,000 international observers "pouring into Ukraine," reports the New York Times, including elected officials from the United States, Europe and Canada. Roughly half of the observers were called by the the international Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
According to reports, voter turnout was high in Kiev and other western-aligned regions while in cities in eastern Ukraine, where voters recently elected to secede from Ukraine and pro-Russian insurgents have seized numerous government buildings, polls remained vacant. Most media outlets reported high levels of voter intimidation and some violence by rebel groups.
AFP reports that in the Donetsk region alone, only 426 out of 2,430 polling stations were open, and none in the main city. And in the Russian-annexed region of Crimea, no vote was held.
The primary candidates, including frontrunner Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate magnate, are promising closer ties with the West in defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Reuters reports. Among the 21 total presidential candidates on the ballot, the other leading candidate is former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In remarks on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would honor the outcome of the election, though he cautioned leaders in Kiev adding that, after the vote, he expected that "all military action will stop and national dialogue will begin."
On Thursday and Friday, eastern Ukraine saw a dramatic uptick in violence with reports of clashes between Ukrainian troops and separatist forces that left many dead on both sides.