by Tammy Lynch
UPDATE (6:30 AM): See below a video clip of Yanukovych speaking during his victory speech, with English translation by AFP. Blog after the video.
With almost 92% of the vote counted, it appears that Viktor Yanukovych will hold off Yulia Tymoshenko to win Ukraine's presidential election. Currently, according to the Ukrayinska Pravda website, which has the most updated results, Yanukovych leads Tymoshenko 48.47% to 45.89% - a difference of 2.58%. While Yanukovych declared victory, Tymoshenko refused to concede on Sunday night.
As expected, historical voting patterns held, with most of Western and Central Ukraine voting for Tymoshenko, while the South and Eastern regions supported Yanukovych. There was one difference from 2004; while the numbers are still being assessed, it seems that certain Western Ukraine regions show a voter turnout as much as 10% below five years ago. This will be looked at as a factor that might have changed the final results.
Should this small difference hold, it will be the closest election in modern Ukrainian history. It is also the closest presidential election in any of the countries of the former Soviet Union.
The surprisingly close race could provide Tymoshenko with the impetus to challenge certain precinct or regional results in court - hoping to erase the difference using legal channels.
She was circumspect about this possibility in the early hours of Monday morning, saying that "a decision will be made how to move forward" only after the final vote count is determined. She also reportedly stressed that she maintained "a fighting spirit."
For his part, Yanukovych has attempted to strike a conciliatory tone. He has congratulated Tymoshenko for her strong showing and said he wanted to be a president for all Ukraine, not just the South and East.
However, he also suggested that Tymoshenko should resign as Prime Minister, and said that he would put together a new parliamentary coalition under a PM of his choosing.
That may be easier said than done. The Prime Minister and cabinet have strong powers in Ukraine. He may be able to force a vote of no confidence in the cabinet, but he would need to convince one of Tymoshenko's coalition partners to withdraw its support and join his new coalition in order to elect a new PM. Coalition member The Bloc of Our Ukraine is divided. But, so far, the majority has opposed Yanukovych.
So, what might Tymoshenko do?
1. She could battle in court for an unlikely victory, or use the potential of protracted legal proceedings to bargain for her position or other concessions.
2. She could concede and fight to save her job by enticing, forcing or otherwise persuading the majority of Our Ukraine to stay loyal.
3. She could concede and attempt to force snap parliamentary elections using one of a number of odd parliamentary procedures. This may delay the loss of her position. It also likely would eliminate Our Ukraine from the parliament. Her bloc would probably receive a significant portion of Our Ukraine's votes.
This move, however, also would probably introduce a new bloc under Serhiy Tyhypko, the third place finisher in the first-round of the presidential election. It is unclear if she could maintain enough seats to control parliament and the cabinet - but given the strength of Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Communist Party, it is unlikely.
New elections also would depend on the loyalty of the oligarchs within her own Bloc. While she's been able to keep them in line in the past, facing a loss of power, this will be come a far more complicated proposition.
This could, however, create at least one additional center of power in the parliament - under Serhiy Tyhypko - thus helping Tymoshenko undermine Yanukovych's attempts to consolidate power.
4. She could concede, resign and lead an opposition bloc.
As the results become final, it appears that Tymoshenko has a lot of thinking to do.
For some video of election day, see this report by Russia Today: