(CNN) — In a remarkable comeback, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich seemed set Monday to become the president of Ukraine — five years after he was ousted in a populist pro-Western uprising dubbed the “Orange Revolution.”
With more than 98 percent of the ballots processed, Yanukovich had won 48.60 percent of the votes.
His rival, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, garnered 45.81 percent, according to the country’s Central Election Commission.
That means there aren’t enough votes left to be counted to enable Tymoshenko to overtake Yanukovich. About 4.38 percent of ballots were cast for “neither of the above.”
If Yanukovich, the pro-Russia candidate wins, it would mark a reversal of fortunes for the leader who was removed from office in 2004 after he was declared the winner of that year’s presidential elections.
It would be an “indictment” of the failures of the leaders of the Orange Revolution in a country that has been severely hit by the global economic crisis, said CNN’s Moscow correspondent, Matthew Chance.
The expectation now is that the Ukraine will move closer to the Russian fold, particularly in terms of economic and foreign policies, Chance added.
Appearing on television after the polls closed Sunday night, Yanukovich said his opponent should begin preparations to step down. But Tymoshenko said her party was conducting a parallel ballot count and that each vote cast could be decisive.
Though some members of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions said they would rally and demonstrate regardless of the results, Tymoshenko seemed to have backed off an earlier remark to call her supporters out into the streets if voting appeared fraudulent.
On Sunday, Tymoshenko said she would await official results and a legal examination, according UNIAN, the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency.
Preliminary estimates showed about a 69 percent turnout.
The two politicians have fought a bitter battle.
Yanukovich has strong links to Russia, and a checkered election history. In 2004, he was declared the winner of that year’s presidential elections before the ballot’s legitimacy was questioned and he was accused of stealing the race.
“The country remembers times when there were presidents announced, they received congratulations and then things changed,” Tymoshenko said Sunday, referring to the 2004 race.
A pro-Western uprising, known as the Orange Revolution, followed. Yanukovich’s win was annulled.
The revolution put the current president, Victor Yuschenko, in power. He ran for a second term this year, but, blamed for Ukraine’s faltering economy, he did not make the runoff.
The Orange Revolution also swept Tymoshenko to power.
This year’s elections, by contrast to those in 2004, got a clean bill of health from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent observers.
The OSCE hailed the process as “professional, transparent and honest,” saying it should “serve as a solid foundation for a peaceful transition of power.”
“Some say the Orange Revolution has failed. I say no. Thanks to the Orange Revolution, democratic elections in Ukraine are now a reality,” said Matyas Eorsi, head of the delegation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, in a statement.
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