Ukrainian electoral officials said Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow candidate (photo, from aljazeera.net), will win a narrow victory in the presidential election.
With more than 98% of votes counted, Mr Yanukovych had a 2.7% lead over his rival, PM Yulia Tymoshenko, media said.
Although Mr Yanukovych called on Mrs Tymoshenko to quit, she refused and is expected to challenge the result.
International observers described the vote as an “impressive display of democratic elections”.
“For everyone in Ukraine, this election was a victory,” the observers, led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a statement, Reuters news agency reported.
“It is now time for the country’s political leaders to listen to the people’s verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive.”
Mrs Tymoshenko will have a hard time challenging the outcome with favourable judgements by the electoral commission as well as international observers.
She has postponed a news conference on the result until Tuesday.
Pro-Wester leaders’ failure
After being swept aside by the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, the results suggest a remarkable comeback of Mr Yanukovych, a 59-year-old former mechanic.
Under his presidency, Ukraine’s foreign policy is expected to become more pro-Russian.
According to the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Kiev, a Yanukovych win would be an extraordinary indictment of the pro-Western Orange Revolution leaders’ failure to deliver on their promises, which has left people deeply disillusioned.
Politics in Ukraine has now gone full circle, he adds.
In 2004, Mr Yanukovych was a presidential candidate in the election, which was found to have been rigged in his favour.
Mrs Tymoshenko’s impassioned leadership of the subsequent street protests that took place in 2004 and that swept Mr Yanukovych from power, also thrust her to office, along with Viktor Yushchenko and made her an international celebrity.(photo, from aljazeera.net)
However, once a fierce critic of Russian involvement in Ukraine, the prime minister now has close ties with Vladimir Putin, her Russian counterpart. At a recent meeting, Mr Putin said she was someone he could “do business with”.
The first round of the presidential election was held last month and saw the defeat of incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, who came fifth.
It is set to be a narrower margin of victory than Mr Yanukovych had been hoping for. According to media reports, with more than 98% of votes counted, he was ahead with some 48.55% of the vote, with Mrs Tymoshenko at around 45.85%.
Yet Mr Yanukovych was already congratulated his supporters and said he will deliver the change the country is yearning for.
He then reportedly said it was time for his rival to quit.
“I think that Yulia Tymoshenko should prepare to resign. She understands that well,” Interfax-Ukraine quoted him as saying in a television interview.
“In any case, I believe such a suggestion will be put to her.”
However Mrs Tymoshenko, 49, showed no sign of standing down.
In a news conference earlier, she said her team was conducting a “parallel count” and urged them to “fight for every result, every document, every vote”.
The first round of voting was won by Mr Yanukovych, who finished 10 percentage points ahead of Mrs Tymoshenko.
She has threatened to take her supporters to the streets if defeated, saying the protests could be larger than those of the Orange Revolution.
Real policy issues and debate seemed to have been forgotten before Sunday’s vote and were replaced by a bitter mud-slinging campaign, said BBC correspondent.
On Saturday, Mrs Tymoshenko’s political bloc accused Mr Yanukovych’s Party of Regions of blocking her supporters from overseeing the vote in the eastern Donetsk region.
Mr Yanukovych’s camp hit back with allegations that some supporters of the prime minister had been tampering with ballots in an attempt to get votes from eastern Ukraine disqualified.
President Yushchenko also led a series of bitter personal attacks on former ally Mrs Tymoshenko during the campaign.
Over the last five years, his working relationship with the prime minister was poisoned by bickering as Ukraine became engulfed by an economic crisis, with its GDP plummeted 15% last year.
(map, from bbc.co.uk)