Exit polls and early returns Monday suggested candy tycoon Petro Poroshenko was elected president of Ukraine in the first round of balloting. In taking on the leadership of the bitterly divided country, he vowed to “put an end to war, chaos, crime, and bring peace to the Ukrainian land.”
The 48-year-old billionaire who supports strong ties with Europe but also wants to mend relations with Russia claimed victory after Sunday’s vote, which 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 local residents 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, Kiev.
With votes from about 30 percent of precincts counted early Monday, Poroshenko was leading with 54 percent in the field of 21 candidates. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was running a distant second with 13 percent.
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Both results were in line with exit polls, which showed Poroshenko with nearly 56 percent and Tymoshenko with 13 percent. 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. 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.