Ukrainians began their votes Sunday to elect a new parliament, an election widely regarded as a test for the pro-Western drive promoted by President Viktor Yushchenko since he assumed power in 2004.
The election, for the first time, enables the party or party coalition holding a parliamentary majority to appoint a prime minister, a right that had been owned by the president.
The structure was set under an amendment to Ukraine's constitution adopted in December 2004, the president retains the right to set foreign policy and appoint foreign and defense ministers.
About 37 million electors are prepared to cast their ballots. A total of 45 parties and blocs will vie for the 450 seats in the parliament, but polls show only five to seven parties will exceed the 3 percent threshold.
Three parties -- Our Ukraine headed by President Yushchenko, the Party of Regions led by his pro-Russian rival Viktor Yanukovych and Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko -- are leading the race.
The latest opinion polls suggest the Party of Regions would snatch 30 to 34 percent of votes, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine would gain 17 to 20 percent and Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko would have 14 to 20 percent of support.
Yanukovych, who was defeated in the presidential elections in 2004, advocates closer ties with Russia, promises stability and vows to drop plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He enjoys broad support in the east part of the country.
The approval ratings of President Yushchenko slid from 70 percent a year ago to less than 20 percent in recent opinion polls. He has pledged to put Ukraine on the way to the European Union (EU) and NATO and gained backing in the western and central areas of the country.
Tymoshenko, who was fired by Yushchenko as prime minister last September, has vowed to fight corruption and entrenched interests.
But with no single party expected to capture a majority, the country might end up with a coalition government. The talks on forming the new government could drag on for months.
Yushchenko said in a Friday televised speech that the parliamentary election is a choice between the past and the future, and called on Ukrainians to vote for democratic forces.
The president also vowed to hold Ukraine's most democratic election ever since.
"Today, society faces a very simple choice: it is a choice between the past and the future," Yushchenko said.
The landmark elections drew massive attention from Russia and western countries. Over 3,500 observers from the United States, Russia, Britain, the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent States will monitor the race which will also decide regional assemblies and municipal heads.