I had to post this because I am ecstatic to see Democracy run its course despite incomprehensibly strong resistance from the "old powers" of the Communist Eastern Bloc reminants.
KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) -- Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko declared victory early Monday in Ukraine's presidential election, telling supporters it is the dawn of a new political era in the former Soviet republic.
Although final results will be released Monday morning, Yushchenko had a huge lead in early returns, and exit polls indicated he would defeat Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Yushchenko, who was poisoned with dioxin during the campaign, told tens of thousands of supporters who had massed in Independence Square, "After today, everything is going to change in the Ukraine."
"For 14 years, we were independent, but we were not free," he said. "This is a unique, clear political victory, an elegant victory from the people who have proved their power."
The bitterly contested race was a repeat of a November 21 election whose results were thrown out because of widespread fraud. Yanukovych won the official count by 2.7 percentage points in that election.
In response, Yushchenko supporters gathered daily in the square, calling for another election. Sunday night, they gathered in celebration.
"Today, the Ukrainian nation and the Ukrainian people have won. The Ukrainian people have won," Yushchenko said.
Three exit polls released just after the voting ended showed him with a 12- to 20-point lead lead over Yanukovych, who was backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yanukovych told reporters that he still believed he could win -- but that if he did not, he would fight as an opposition voice in parliament.
With ballots from just over 60 percent of precincts counted, Yushchenko was leading 56 percent to 40 percent, The Associated Press reported, citing election officials.
For many in Ukraine, Sunday's vote portended positive developments.
"I am very happy that our Ukrainian people rose up and fought for freedom and democracy, and I think that we will have our victory," a Yushchenko supporter said.
Watching for fraud
About 12,000 international observers were on hand for the vote.
Although no official reports on the legitimacy of the election were immediately available, one top observer said he saw good things throughout the day.
After visiting a handful of the 33,000 polling sites, Bruce George, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's International Monitoring Group, said he saw a "good atmosphere."
"The polling stations that I have been to have been very, very orderly, well-run, no difficulties, full number of members of the polling commission, policemen discretely available," he said. "No trouble here. I just hope the other 33,000 are as good as this."
Yushchenko campaign officials expressed confidence the election results could not be "stolen" this time.
Ties to the West
The election will determine Ukraine's relationship with Europe and Russia. Yushchenko has stronger ties to the West than does Yanukovych.
The winner will face the challenge of uniting the country and building stability. Ukraine is divided geographically, with people in eastern and southern regions of the country largely supporting Yanukovych and those in other areas, including Kiev, mostly backing Yushchenko.
Amid the turmoil of the past month, many government institutions have barely functioned.
If Yushchenko wins, he will also face the challenge of building a relationship with Russia.
Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has called on whoever loses to congratulate the winner the next day to help build stability. Asked whether he would call Yushchenko if the polls prove accurate, Yanukovych said he would do so, with regret.
He has argued that the new election was unnecessary and unconstitutional. But international monitors condemned irregularities and fraud in last month's vote, and Ukraine's supreme court ultimately ruled the results invalid.
The Constitutional Court ruled Saturday that parts of the electoral changes recently adopted by Ukraine's parliament were unconstitutional.
The court found that limits placed on voting at home for disabled people violated their civil rights. The ruling reverted to the original law, which allowed a broad category of disabled people to vote at home.
CNN's Jill Dougherty in Kiev contributed to this report.