Tearful victor Putin faces critique
Russian Prime Minister and next president Vladimir Putin (L) wipes tears from his eyes as he emotionally reacts at a massive rally of his supporters with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at Manezh Square outside Kremlin, in Moscow. AP photoRussian leader Vladimir Putin has reclaimed the Kremlin after a crushing presidential election victory and extended his hold on power for six more years but expected to face protests by the opposition who claim the poll was undermined by fraud.
Putin, who is set to be inaugurated in May, secured almost 64 percent of the vote in the March 4 election, winning back the Russian presidency which he held for two terms from 2000 to 2008 before his four-year stint as prime minister. His nearest rival, the Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, took 17 percent of the vote. Third place went to tycoon-turned-politician Mikhail Prokhorov with 7.82 percent.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the voting process. “Conditions (for the campaign) were clearly skewed in favor of... Vladimir Putin,” the observers said in a statement. The vote count was “assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities,” they added. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also urged Russia to address “shortcomings” in the vote. China, Japan, Germany, Syria and Cuba congratulated Putin for his success. In a late-night appearance in front of more than 100,000 supporters just outside the Kremlin after polls closed, an apparently tearful Putin declared he had triumphed in a clean fight and said Russian voters had sabotaged attempts to break up the country, Agence France-Presse reported.
Putin soars in Caucasus, plummets in Moscow
“We have won in an open and honest battle,” Putin said with tears welling in his eyes and his voice hoarse with emotion, standing on a stage alongside outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev in Manezh Square. Putin denied he had been crying during his speech, saying he had only shed “tears from the wind.” Putin, former KGB spy, said that voters had defeated provocations that aimed “to break up the Russian state and to usurp power.”
In a sign of some discontent among the urban elite, Putin failed to obtain even half of the vote in Moscow, winning 47.22 percent. But a preliminary count from Chechnya said Putin had won 99.73 percent of the vote in the conflict-torn region in an astonishing 99.59 percent turnout. Overall turnout was 65.3 percent, down from almost 70 percent in the 2008 presidential elections but up from the Dec. 4 parliamentary polls. Despite the support Putin was set to face the latest in a series of mass opposition protests against his rule in Moscow later yesterday.
Olive branch to opposition
Opposition leaders were expecting tens of thousands of people to rally in Pushkin Square to demonstrate for a “Russia without Putin,” in a protest that has been sanctioned by the authorities but will take place amid heavy security. The opposition raised concerns about so-called “carousel” voting where people cast multiple ballots at different polling stations using absentee voting documents. The ITAR-Tass news agency cited the Interior Ministry as saying that some 12,000 police officers and troops will be on duty to maintain order in Moscow, the Associated Press reported. To ease the tension, Medvedev held out an olive branch to opposition protesters yesterday, telling Russia’s prosecutor general to study the legality of 32 criminal cases including the jailing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Reuters reported.
Khodorkovsky, who headed what was Russia’s biggest oil company, Yukos, and was once the country’s richest man, was arrested in 2003 and jailed on tax evasion and fraud charges after showing political ambitions and falling out with Putin. He is expected to stay in prison until 2016.