KIEV, Ukraine â€” The governing party of PresidentÂ Viktor F. YanukovichÂ declared victory in Ukraineâ€™s parliamentary elections on Sunday, based on preliminary exit polls that also showed opposition parties making strong gains, including an unexpectedly strong rise in support for an ultranationalist party with a leader who is known for anti-Semitic and racist views.
The precise makeup of the Parliament, called the Verkhovna Rada, will not be known for several weeks because half of the 450 seats will be filled by candidates who did not have to declare a party affiliation ahead of Sundayâ€™s balloting.
But preliminary surveys of voters by five separate research and news media organizations showed Mr. Yanukovichâ€™s Party of Regions in the lead with 27.6 percent to 32 percent of the vote, followed by the Fatherland party ofÂ Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister, with about 24 percent. AÂ party led by the boxing champion Vitali KlitschkoÂ was third with about 14 percent.
â€œWith this vote our people have shown that they understand what a difficult economic situation the country was in, and that our party has taken the full responsibility over the situation,â€ Prime Minister Mykola Azarov declared at a news conference, as hundreds of supporters gathered for a victory party on a square in central Kiev, waving blue and yellow flags.
Mr. Azarov said the preliminary results affirmed support for Mr. Yanukovich, who was elected in 2010 in a runoff against Ms. Tymoshenko. Mr. Yanukovich and his government have come under withering criticism in the West over the jailing of his rival and taking steps that have expanded executive control and rolled back previous democratic reforms.
But it appeared possible that the Party of Regions, and its traditional ally, the Communist Party, would wield less control over Parliament than they do now.
By far the most striking result from Sundayâ€™s election was the surge in support for the Freedom Party, an ultranationalist, right wing party that could control a faction in Parliament for the first time. The surveys showed the party winning about 12 percent of the vote, compared with the less than 1 percent that it received in the last elections in 2007.
The Freedom Partyâ€™s rise caught many analysts by surprise and appeared at least partly to represent a backlash against a law elevating the status of the Russian language that was rammed through Parliament by the Party of Regions, infuriating many native Ukrainian speakers, particularly in the western part of the country.
The partyâ€™s strong performance also seemed to emphasize the growing disillusionment among many Ukrainian voters for the countryâ€™s familiar political actors, including Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko, who was barred from the ballot.
The Freedom Party is led by Oleg Tyagnibok, a fiery nationalist, who has called in the past for purges of Jews and Russians from Ukraine. His partyâ€™s influence is likely to be even bigger than its share of the vote because of a cooperation agreement that it signed with Ms. Tymoshenkoâ€™s Fatherland party.