KIEV, Ukraine Ukraine's Orange Revolution allies made a strong combined showing in Sunday's parliamentary elections and looked poised to win a majority that could unseat the prime minister and steer the country more firmly onto a pro-Western course, an exit poll showed.
The election was called early in an attempt to end a standoff between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko and shake sense into the ex-Soviet nation's politics after years of infighting.
The independent poll showed Yanukovych's bloc was the top vote-getter with 35.2 percent, but Yulia Tymoshenko, the fiery Orange Revolution heroine, followed closely with 31.5 percent. Yushchenko's party was trailing a distant third with 13.4 percent.
Tymoshenko, smiling triumphantly after the exit polls were announced, said she would meet with Yushchenko today to quickly formalize their new alliance. Their coalition could mend a rift in Orange Revolution forces that had thrown the nation into political turmoil.
"In one or two days we will announce the coalition," Tymoshenko told reporters.
Yanukovych draws his support from the Russian-speaking east and south and is considered more Russia-friendly, though he has increasingly underlined his push for Ukraine's integration into Europe.
The exit poll was conducted by a team of Ukraine's three leading polling agencies and had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. Other exit polls had similar results.
The vote the fourth in three years will either boost Ukraine's hopes to integrate more closely into Europe or stir more infighting. Forging a coalition with Tymoshenko could take weeks of bargaining, and Yanukovych is unlikely to give up power easily.
Yuriy Lutsenko, the leader of Yushchenko's party, said it was ready to back Tymoshenko as prime minister after the coalition is formed.
Tymoshenko, clad in immaculate white, pledged that the new government would push strongly for Ukraine to integrate more closely into Europe and quickly join the World Trade Organization.
At the same time, she said Ukraine would seek to develop good relations with Russia and hold talks shortly on imports of Russian gas and its transit to Europe.
"We will guarantee a balanced, harmonious relationship with Russia," she said.
While Tymoshenko's headquarters celebrated the results with champagne, a gloomy silence hung over Yanukovych's campaign office.
A somber-looking Yanukovych made a brief statement in which he tried to present the results as his party's victory, saying it would now start talks with potential coalition partners. However, exit polls suggested those parties, including the Communists, would not get enough seats to overcome an Orange alliance.
"We consider the election results as a carte blanche for our party to form a new government," Yanukovych. He took no questions and left.
Earlier, Yushchenko dismissed concerns about tensions worsening amid coalition talks.
"There will be emotions, but these will be just episodes. I'm sure that the political community will find mutual understanding," Yushchenko said.
Ukraine's political fortunes seemed firmly determined after hundreds of thousands of protesters paved the way for Yushchenko's victory in the Orange Revolution protests against Yanukovych's fraud-tinged win in the 2004 presidential vote.
But the Orange camp plunged into infighting shortly after the victory, with Yushchenko firing Tymoshenko in 2005 as prime minister after only seven months on the job. And the party of Yanukovych, a 57-year-old former metal worker, made a stunning comeback in the March 2006 parliamentary elections, propelling him back into the premiership.
Yanukovych sought to change his image, casting himself as a democrat, preaching compromise and stability and easing his affiliation with Russia.
Unlike the 2004 vote when the Kremlin backed Yanukovych, Russia is staying away from the parliamentary election.
Yanukovych resisted Yushchenko's April decision to dissolve parliament and call new elections after the president accused him of seeking to usurp power. Yanukovych grudgingly agreed to Sunday's vote, but has hinted he would accept only one outcome: his victory.
Yanukovych has accused Yushchenko and Tymoshenko's parties of preparing widespread falsifications, and warned he could organize protests similar to those during the Orange Revolution. He said that his party would not accept an "unlawful" outcome.
In the Orange camp, Yushchenko, 53, has struggled with disillusionment and a loss of support among many voters now backing Tymoshenko, 46, who wears a flaxen braid wrapped on her head and is known here simply as Yulia.
"I'm sure that Yushchenko and Yulia won't repeat their mistakes. I want to live in Europe, and only the Orange forces can take us there," said Oleg Kileiko, a 46-year old businessman who voted for the president's bloc.