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Kremlin Candidate Wins Russian Vote; Fairness Questioned

By Peter Fedynsky
03 March 2008

With all but half a percent of the ballots counted from Sunday's presidential election in Russia, Kremlin candidate Dmitri Medvedev has garnered more than all of his opponents, combined. Now, Medvedev is indicating how he will share power with outgoing President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to become prime minister. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow.

The foregone conclusion of a Medvedev victory is now all but official. Central Election Chief Vladimir Churov announced the preliminary results at a Monday morning news conference in the Russian capital. The only ballots yet to be counted are from Russians voting aboard and inaccessible places of the country.

The final half percent will not change the result, with Medvedev winning more than 70 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov comes in second, with nearly 18 percent. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, perennial candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party, received less than 10 percent. Andrei Bogdanov, a complete political unknown, got just over one percent.

None of the opponents posed a serious threat to Medvedev. Politicians who might have been considered - including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, human rights activist Vladimir Bukovsky, reformer Boris Nemtsov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov - were prohibited from running because of technicalities.

Election chief Churov says voter participation set a nationwide record.

The election chief says voter turnout was nearly 70 percent.

But Russia's independent voter rights group, Golos, says the organization received numerous telephone calls on its hotline from teachers, factory workers, university professors and others complaining they were forced to cast ballots. The director of Golos, Lilia Shibanova, told VOA the source of the pressure probably comes from local, not Kremlin authorities.

The reason, says Shibanova, is because the goal set by local officials was aimed at boosting results in order get preferential treatment from the center.

The highest turnouts, in excess of 90 percent, came from some of Russia's poorest regions, such as Mordovia, Chechnya, and Dagestan.

Dmitri Medvedev says he will take over presidential offices in the Kremlin and Mr. Putin will move into the prime minister's office at the Russian Federation Building, also known as Russia's White House. Medvedev says their tandem rule will not create difficulties, because the Russian Constitution clearly delineates authority between the president and head of government. Medvedev notes he will have constitutional authority over foreign affairs.

Medvedev says Russia's main foreign policy priority will be to maintain relations with the country's closets neighbors - members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. He says his first foreign visit will be to one of the CIS countries.

The Medvedev statement and modest reference to the possibility of victory came Sunday evening, after it was already clear that official declaration of his presidency was a mere formality.

Meanwhile, the head of an observer delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe, Andreas Gross, says the results indicate a reflection of the will of an electorate whose democratic potential was not tapped. Gross says flaws in the presidential vote were a repeat of the same ones that occurred in December's parliamentary election. He mentioned unequal media access for opposition candidates, which is one of the reasons Russian critics have called Sunday's vote "stage-managed."

About 300 foreign observers came to monitor an election that involved about 96,000 polling stations over Russia's 11 time zones. The key European monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, refused to come, saying restrictions imposed by the Russians would have made a meaningful assessment impossible.

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