|An observer waits for the start of ballot counting at a polling station after voting day in Kiev October 28, 2012. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's pro-business ruling party led in a national election on Sunday. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino says Canada is concerned about "irregularities" seen in the run up to Ukraine's parliamentary election Sunday.
But he added the election observer mission in the post-Soviet country still has "expectations" the weekend vote will prove to be free and fair.
"Irregularities in the Ukraine electoral process raised over the past several months by independent election and media monitoring organizations, including Mission Canada, have created an uneven playing field for opposition candidates, media, civil society and the Ukrainian people themselves," Fantino told Canadian media on a conference call.
Canada sent 500 observers to the Ukraine in the run-up to voting day, including 75 long-term monitors who've been reporting on the campaign.
Fantino said the observers "have been concerned for a while now and hopefully some of those issues will have been addressed. We'll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds."
Early polls indicated Sunday evening that Ukrainian President Viktor
Yanukovich's Party of the Regions was leading.
The vote is widely seen as a litmus test of Yanukovich's democratic credentials. Canada and other Western countries have said they're troubled by what they see is an erosion of democracy over the past few years in the country, including a trend towards apparent politically motivated prosecutions.
They point to the conviction of Yanukovich's political foe, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on what they see as trumped-up charges.
Fantino also hinted that ongoing free trade talks between Canada and Ukraine hinged in part on whether Sunday's election is viewed as fair by the international community.
"The discussions so far have been happening in good faith, proceeding very nicely," he said. "Once the elections are done and we have our report in as to what will happen there, no doubt that will be factored into whatever decisions will be made in the future."
--with files from Reuters