Turbulent Ukraine chooses new parliament

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KIEV, Sep 30 (Reuters) Ukrainians, buffeted by months of political turmoil, were choosing a new parliament today in an election that President Viktor Yushchenko said offered a choice between ''false stability and change''.

The pro-Western Yushchenko, swept to power in the 2004 ''Orange revolution'', has been sharing power grudgingly with the man he defeated in that upheaval, Viktor Yanukovich, who has bounced back to challenge him as prime minister.

The president has rejoined forces with Yulia Tymoshenko, a former premier who roused vast crowds in the Orange revolution, sparked when an election was rigged to ensure Yanukovich became president.

''The choice is between two alternatives -- false stability and change,'' the president said alongside his wife and daughter at a polling station in central Kiev, awash with warm sunshine.

''And I believe the nation will opt for change.'' Yanukovich's campaign has stressed stability and economic growth of 7.1 per cent last year. Casting his ballot in Kiev, he said voters would decide ''just who is more pragmatic''.

Tymoshenko said an ''Orange'' team would waste no time if it won. ''We know that we will have to accomplish 10 days' work in a single day,'' she said in her home town, Dnipropetrovsk.

REFORMS STALLED Reforms and policy initiatives have stalled over the last year as president and prime minister bickered. Confusion over contradictory orders was compounded by ill-defined changes to presidential powers.

If the opinion polls are right, no clear winner is likely in Sunday's election, called by Yushchenko after he accused Yanukovich of an illegal power grab, and long talks to form a coalition are almost certain.

Differences in orientation towards the West and Russia, key in 2004, are all but absent. Yanukovich, backed then by Russia, now describes himself as pro-European and focuses mainly on the living standards of voters earning on average 260 dollars a month.

Voters were being processed with few of the queues or other difficulties that have plagued previous post-Soviet elections.

''Orange'' parties were still likely to win most support in the nationalist west, the centre and Kiev, while Yanukovich's power base remains in the largely Russian-speaking east.

''The main thing is stability and calm, no fuss,'' said businessman Igor Krivosheyev, who voted for the Regions Party in Donetsk, its eastern stronghold. ''Things were crazy with an Orange government. Legislation, taxation -- always changing.'' In Kiev, Yuri Maximov, 49, backed Tymoshenko's pro-Western agenda. ''This will bring us closer to Europe. This is probably a unique chance when I can change something by voting.'' Polling stations to elect the 450-member assembly opened at 0930 hrs IST and close at 0030 hrs IST. Exit polls will be made public immediately afterwards, with official results available from tomorrow morning.

The last opinion polls, dating from two weeks ago, showed Yanukovich and his Communist allies just ahead of the combined tally of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko's bloc.

Only one other bloc among 20 entries, headed by centrist former parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, is given an outside chance of clearing 3 per cent of the vote to win seats.

Tymoshenko is almost certain to become prime minister if the Orange camp wins. She was Yushchenko's first premier in 2005, but he sacked her amid debilitating infighting in her team.

Yanukovich has not ruled out a ''grand coalition'' between his Regions Party and Our Ukraine, a scenario favoured by several economic analysts that would shut Tymoshenko out of government.

REUTERS SG BST1735

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