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Ukrainians head to polls in critical parliamentary vote

Key parliamentary election kicks off in Ukraine.

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An elderly couple cast their ballot on October 28, 2012 in the village of Rusaki, some 110 kms from Kiev, during national parliamentary elections. Ukraine voted on October 28 in legislative polls seen as a test of democracy under President Viktor Yanukovych following the jailing his political foe Yulia Tymoshenko. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

Polling stations have opened in Ukraine for a parliamentary vote seen as so important that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton preceded it with an open letter urging the president to use it to prove his stated commitment to democratic governance, reported the Associated Press

It's time for Ukraine's leadership to "deliver for their citizens," the two wrote in The New York Times.

Ukrainians last cast their ballots in the country's tightly-contested 2010 presidential race, which pitted the country's former Prime Minister-turned-opposition-leader Yulia Tymoshenko against now-President Viktor Yanukovych, who promptly jailed his rival after taking power.

Tymoshenko's detainment has prompted criticism from the West. The fairness of the election has also been called into question. 

More from GlobalPost: Ukraine flounders as apathetic voters head to the polls

Thus the close eye on today's vote. The BBC's Ukraine correspondent, David Stern, reported from Kiev that the election promises to be one of the most closely-monitored in history, with 3,500 accredited foreign observers. Indeed, the West is very much invested in developments in strategically-located Ukraine, a key gas supply route for the European Union led by Russia-friendly Yanukovych. 

According to GlobalPost's Gregory Feifer, Yanukovych's Regions Party is likely to keep its parliamentary majority "in voting few Ukrainians expect to be fair" -- no doubt helped by the fact that the government recently changed the electoral law to give the ruling party a better shot at keeping some of the 450 parliamentary seats up for grabs, according to rights watchdog Freedom House

But rising political favorite and former boxing star Vitali Klitschko -- alias Dr. Ironfist, whose party is appropriately called Punch (UDAR) -- may take enough seats to possibly unite with Tymoshenko's lawmaking allies and gain the upper hand, reported Agence France Presse

Also among the 5,000 parliamentary candidates on ballots today is the party is that of football sensation Andriy Shevchenko, said AFP. Half of the parliamentary seats are reserved for candidates represented by registered political parties, while the other half is open to individuals, said BBC

Voting booths will be open for 12 hours and election results are expected on Monday, reported BBC

The former Soviet nation is home to 46 million people. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/121028/ukrainians-head-the-polls-critical-parliamentary-vote