KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Exit polls suggested candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko was elected president yesterday in the first round of balloting in the bitterly divided country, and he vowed “to bring peace to the Ukrainian land.”
The billionaire who supports strong ties with Europe but also wants to mend relations with Russia claimed victory after a vote that took place amid weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine where pro-Moscow separatists have seized government buildings and battled government troops.
The rebels had vowed to block the ballot in the east, and less than 20 percent of the polling stations were open there after gunmen intimidated locals by smashing ballot boxes, shutting down polling centers and issuing threats.
But nationwide, about 60 percent of 35.5 million eligible voters turned out, the central elections commission said, and long lines snaked around polling stations in the capital of Kiev.
The exit polls, conducted by three respected Ukrainian survey agencies, found the 48-year-old Poroshenko getting 55.9 percent of the vote in the field of 21 candidates. A distant second was former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with 12.9 percent, the poll showed. Full results are expected today, but if that margin holds, Poroshenko would avoid a runoff election next month with the second-place finisher.
Viewing the exit polls as definitive evidence of victory, Poroshenko said his first steps as president would be to visit the Donbass eastern industrial region, home to Ukraine’s coal mines — and “put an end to war, chaos, crime, and bring peace to the Ukrainian land.”
He also promised a dialogue with residents of eastern Ukraine and said he was ready to extend amnesty to those who did not commit any crimes.