By JIM HEINTZ and PETER LEONARD - Associated Press
MOSCOW -- The head of the major international election observer mission in Russia says there were "serious problems" in the vote that returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency.
Tonino Picula said in a statement Monday that "there was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt."
Picula headed the short-term observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
A brief synopsis of the mission's findings did not address Russian independent observers' contentions that there were widespread cases of people casting multiple ballots, but said the election "process deteriorated during the vote count, which was assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed."
The Central Elections Commission says Prime Minister Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, got more than 63 percent of the nationwide vote, but the independent Russian elections watchdog Golos says incomplete reports from its observers of individual polling station counts indicate he hovered perilously close to the 50-percent mark needed for a first-round victory.
The OSCE observers' conclusions may have significant bearing on whether Russia's opposition forces will be able to maintain the momentum of the unprecedentedly large protests they were able to marshal in the past three months.
A protest rally has been set for Monday evening on Moscow's Pushkin Square, one of the central city's most iconic locations. News reports say some 12,000 police and troops will be on duty to ensure order in the city.
The recent months' protests were the largest public show of anger in post-Soviet Russia, where opposition demonstrations previously had been severely limited by officials, and any unauthorized gatherings were harshly dispersed by police.
However, officials gave permission for the massive rallies, which attracted tens of thousands, but it was not clear if the tolerance would continue in the post-election period.
On Monday, outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Justice Ministry to present its explanation for last year's rejection of registration for the People's Freedom Party, an organization led by some of the opposition's most prominent figures. He also ordered the prosecutor-general to re-examine the legality of the conviction of imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and more than 30 others regarded by the opposition as political prisoners.
Some observers saw the move as a maneuver to vitiate continued protests.
Medvedev, "it appears, is trying in advance to break the protest wave, " political analyst Pavel Svyatenkov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
At least one opposition figured vowed that strategy wouldn't work.
In general, this step can be welcomed. But I don't think it should stop the criticism of authorities," Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov told the state news agency RIA Novosti.
Vote-rigging, protest 'crackdown': Foreign press on Putin’s victory
Voting in Russia has been marred by widespread fraud and violations and Vladimir Putin might find it hard to rule the country he has transformed: that is the verdict the foreign press passed on the outcome of Russia’s presidential elections.
A number of foreign news outlets highlighted alleged violations and vote-rigging at the polling stations during the presidential vote on Sunday.
British daily The Guardian, citing independent monitors and opposition activists, reported numerous falsifications, including ballot-stuffing and so-called “carousel” voting, when groups of voters move from one polling station to another, casting their ballots repeatedly. Many also referred to reports of the illegal use of absentee ballots, and quoted opposition activists who said that with such a rigged victory, Vladimir Putin could not be considered a legitimate leader.
"It's not an election," the Wall Street Journal cited Aleksey Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger and activist, as saying. "Putin had a chance to make at least the counting fair, but he didn't. Tomorrow we'll wake up in a country where a large chunk of society doesn't see Mr. Putin as a legitimate president."
Following Sunday’s poll Vladimir Putin, who won a landslide victory, will have to deal with a country which has changed greatly since the moment he first came to power, the Washington Post believes.
While back in the 2000s “Russians were impoverished” and “uncertain” of what lay ahead for the country, now a “more prosperous middle class” is becoming increasingly unhappy with the ongoing situation, says the newspaper.
“Putin <…> finds himself in unfamiliar circumstances,” the report says. “Since December, he has been the target of huge demonstrations in which many thousands have found the courage and solidarity to speak out against him. The outcome of Sunday’s election is unlikely to quell their demands for an honest government that listens to them.”
The newspaper adopted a cautious tone, saying it is still unclear how Vladimir Putin will react to growing anger over alleged election fraud. It said that while Putin might decide to “crack down” on the opposition, the option of the “autocratic regime” bringing in gradual reforms might also be on the table.
As for the Russian protest movement itself, the election results will present it with a serious test of endurance, another newspaper, the Wall Street Journal believes.
“The loosely organized protest movement now faces a test of its ability to keep up the pressure, starting with a Monday evening rally in downtown Moscow,” the report said.
The British Daily Mail newspaper cited former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s calls for opposition groups and opponents of Putin not to surrender.
“These are not going to be honest elections, but we must not relent,” Gorbachev was quoted as saying. “Honest elections should be our constant motto for years to come.”
Middle class as Russia’s new political reality
Unlike the anxious musings of its British and American counterparts, the German magazine Der Spiegel noted signs of warming of the political climate in Russia. The magazine said that despite its harsh criticism of the opposition, the Kremlin gave a platform to the opposition on election night.
The magazine noted that despite losing to the veteran Communist politician Gennady Zyuganov, independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov stands as a “second winner” in the presidential race. Following the elections, the businessman was allowed on a number of talk shows, as a “consolation prize” to “disappointed liberals”. Der Spiegel even cited rumors stating that Putin might appoint Prokhorov as his prime minister an “olive branch to the rebellious middle class.” However the billionaire candidate has already said he would not accept the post.
The French daily Le Figaro declared that a new opposition had emerged in Russia which Vladimir Putin would have to deal with. “This movement expresses the aspirations of the new urban middle class, which by its very existence demonstrates the main achievement of the Putin era – taking Russian society out of Soviet poverty,” the paper said. “But the protest expresses despair over the rigid political system.” Following his victory, Vladimir Putin will have to launch a widespread modernization program which will imply openness and a refusal to follow the old Cold War era strategies the Kremlin still pursues, said the newspaper.
Preliminary results show a decisive win for Vladimir Putin in Sunday’s presidential elections. The vote was preceded by a wave of demonstrations to demand fair and transparent elections following the parliamentary poll of December 4, 2011. Protesters claimed the vote, which brought the ruling United Russia party a reduced Duma majority, was rigged.
Despite opposition criticism and reports of widespread vote-rigging on Sunday, a number of foreign observers, including Finnish, Italian, Serbian and Bulgarian nationals, said the poll had been without serious violations, Itar-Tass news agency reports. Some lauded the video monitoring system installed to make the elections more transparent as “exceeding all international standards.”
Click here for full election coverage
Zhanna Budenkova, RT
Edited by Propaganda_of_the_Deed, 05 March 2012 - 07:42 AM.