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Wrap: Medvedev cruises to victory in Russian presidential elections

RIA Novosti

03/03/2008 02:49 MOSCOW, March 3 (RIA Novosti) - With some 70% of the ballots counted in Russia's presidential elections, Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev has gained 69.22%, enough to give him victory in the first round of voting.

His nearest rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, was on 18.26%. Nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 9.96% of the vote and the leader of the tiny, pro-Western Democratic Party, Andrey Bogdanov, - 1.29%, according to Central Election Commission figures.

'DIRECT CONTINUATION' OF PUTIN ERA AHEAD

As he cruised to victory in Russia's presidential polls, Dmitry Medvedev said his presidency would be a "direct continuation" of the policies of the man who had backed him to lead the largest country on Earth.

Speaking to journalists at a news conference, Medvedev said that his presidential program would be "the path chosen by our country eight years ago."

This path was, he clarified, the one "being followed by President Putin."

Russian First Deputy Premier Medvedev was publicly backed by Vladimir Putin as his successor in mid-December, and was later nominated by the ruling United Russia party as a presidential candidate.

Putin later announced that he would take up an offer by Medvedev to become prime minister if his 'heir' were to win the presidency.

Many political analysts suggested that Medvedev would struggle to make an impact as president with Putin as premier, and there were also suggestions that a change in the Constitution may give Putin more power.

However, Medvedev seemed to rule this out on Monday, saying that, "According to the structure of authority, the president has his own powers and the head of government his own. This is derived from the Constitution and the law. No one is proposing to change this."

Medvedev also said that in the period before his inauguration as president, set for May 7, he would like to work, "in tandem with the future premier, Vladimir Putin...on the configuration of the executive branch of government."

PUTIN'S CONGRATULATIONS

President Putin had earlier congratulated Medvedev on a firm lead in the presidential elections during an election concert in Red Square on Sunday evening.

"The elections for the president of the Russian Federation have taken place. Our candidate has a firm lead," said Putin.

"I congratulate Dmitry Medvedev and wish him luck," said Putin.

Putin also said that the vote had been carried out in "strict accordance with the Constitution."

"I would like to thank everyone who voted for me, and also those who voted for other candidates," said Medvedev. "Together we represent almost two-thirds of our country."

'This means we are not indifferent to our future, this means we can continue the path proposed by Vladimir Putin," he went on.

"Together we will move further forward, together we will achieve victory!" he announced to the crowd.

RUMBLES OF DISCONTENT

As results came in, both Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky hinted that they may contest the results of the polls in the courts.

The Communist Party complained of a mass infringement of voting regulations, with the secretary of the party's central committee, Valery Rashkin, speaking to journalists of "impudence" on behalf of the authorities.

"We've never seen this sort of impudence before...This is a new era," he said.

He added that the Communist party had noted voting violations in many Russian cities, including Saint Petersburg.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky also spoke of his intention to dispute the results of the poll in court.

Answering a question from journalists as to whether he would go to court over the results of Sunday's polls, Zhirinovsky replied, "We've always gone to court - without result. We'll go to court this time as well."

"The best indication of how Russia voted will be clear tomorrow...All Russia's 109 million citizens [eligible voters] will go to work tomorrow with gloomy faces. Everyone voted with gloomy faces today. There wasn't a smile to be seen," he added.

The Russian Central Election Commission said, however, that the polls had taken place without serious violations.

Answering a question as to whether the Central Election Commission would be ready to go to court if a case was brought by either Zyuganov or Zhirinovsky, the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, said, "We'll see. If they go to court, we'll see."

He added that the Central Election Commission had a 100% victory rate in Russian courts.

Many Western observers, including the OSCE's main election arm, chose to boycott the election over restrictions imposed by Russia. Moscow rejected claims that it had imposed restrictions on monitors however.

Critics also pointed to pressure on voters to cast their ballots, especially employees of state-run organizations. The refusal of the Russian election authorities to register a number of candidates from Russia's opposition due to 'irregularities' in their applications was also cited, as was the lack of media coverage of the candidates given permission to stand.

A CIS election monitoring mission said the elections had been held in full accordance with the law. The CIS is an alliance of a number of former Soviet republics.

Election monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have yet to comment on the polls.



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