|Ukraine votes, Yanukovich's party expected to keep majority||
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainians voted on Sunday in an election that President Viktor Yanukovich's pro-business ruling party seemed likely to win, but it may now face a re-energized opposition which has promised to fight growing authoritarianism and corruption.
With Yanukovich's main rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, in jail and with the West seeing the poll as a test of Ukraine's commitment to democracy, interest will focus on the judgment that international monitors will hand down on Monday.
The former Soviet republic of 46 million is more isolated internationally than it has been for years. Tymoshenko's continued imprisonment has put it at odds with the United States and European Union, while Russia turns a deaf ear to Kiev's calls for cheaper gas.
At home, the government's popularity has been hit by tax and pensions policies and a failure to stamp out corruption, prompting it to shy away from painful reforms that could secure much-needed IMF lending to shore up an export-driven economy.
Despite this and growing apathy among an electorate tired of political bickering, opinion polls have shown Yanukovich's Party of the Regions leading the joint opposition, which includes Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, and a liberal party headed by boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
Commentators expect Regions, bankrolled by industrialists and drawing on state resources, to keep a majority in the 450-seat assembly with support possibly from communists and some independents.
“We have rebuilt the country, we have achieved stability,” Mykola Azarov, prime minister and formal leader of the Regions, told a close-of-campaigning rally on Friday.
Even if it wins, Regions faces a tougher time in parliament.
Klitschko, the WBC world heavyweight champion, who heads the UDAR (Punch) party, says he will team up with the opposition led by former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to fight corruption which they say deters entrepreneurial spirit and foreign investment.
From her jail in Kharkiv in Ukraine's northeast, Tymoshenko issued a statement that Yanukovich, who comes up for re-election in 2015, would set up a “dictatorship and never again give up power by peaceful means”.
Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years last year for abuse of office relating to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she made when she was prime minister. The Yanukovich government says the agreement saddled Ukraine with an enormous price for gas supplies.
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