With nearly all the votes in Russia's presidential poll counted, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's hand-picked successor, looked set for a landslide victory amid charges of fraud. (Report: J.Jackson)
Dmitry Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's hand-picked successor, won a landslide victory in Russia's presidential polls, preliminary results showed on Monday, as critics charged the vote was rigged.
Medvedev won 70.2 percent of the vote based on results from 98 percent of the country's polling stations, the election commission said.
As results rolled in, Putin and Medvedev celebrated at a rock concert on Red Square in scenes broadcast repeatedly on national television.
"Together we can continue the course set by President Putin.... Together we'll go further. Together we'll win. Hurrah!" Medvedev, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, told a crowd of supporters beneath driving sleet.
Medvedev, 42, also offered assurances that he would be his own man, including in foreign policy, despite his promise to appoint Putin prime minister.
He said there were no plans to change the president and the prime minister's powers, while "foreign policy, according to the constitution, is determined by the president."
However even before voting began foreign observers had criticised the unfair conditions in which the election was held, with Medvedev given blanket media coverage and liberal opponents prevented from registering.
Both the Communist Party and independent vote-monitoring organisation Golos alleged large-scale violations on voting day.
The only Western observer group not to have boycotted the polls, a group from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, was to give an assessment on Monday, having already described the choice on offer as "limited at best."
And objections voiced by several European newspapers suggested that Western government reaction to the vote might also be critical.
The Financial Times Deutschland said it would be "an insult to democracy" to speak of a democratic election, while Italy's La Stampa referred to "a democracy that many consider mutilated, even destroyed."
The latest returns put Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov in second place with 17.8 percent, followed by the nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with 9.4 percent and the almost unknown Andrei Bogdanov with 1.3 percent.
The criticism by European newspapers contrasted with the headlines of the mainly pro-Kremlin Russian newspapers.
The Izvestia newspaper declared the vote a "triumph of the majority."
And the business newspaper RBK said the Medvedev-Putin tandem had been given "carte blanche for extraordinary measures" in case of economic crises ahead.
Medvedev's triumph was a foregone conclusion given his backing from Putin, who has amassed huge powers in his eight-year presidency and as prime minister is expected to retain a key role in leading the world's top energy exporter.
In the latest example of Russia flexing its energy muscle, state-run Gazprom said it planned to reduce by 25 percent gas supplies to neighbouring Ukraine from Monday morning over a gas payment dispute.
Another controversial issue was likely to be how Russia's police dealt later Monday with two planned opposition protests. Such demonstrations have often been violently dispersed in the past.
Incomplete official figures showed turnout in Sunday's vote hit 70 percent among the 109 million eligible voters.
Medvedev, currently the first deputy premier and long-time chairman of Gazprom, represents a new generation of post-Soviet politicians. Unlike Putin, 55, he has no KGB or other security service background.
But analysts say he will make few dramatic changes and could end up being little more than a puppet figure.
The main European election monitoring body, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), boycotted the vote, citing restrictions on its monitors.
In the United States, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the "presidential election in Russia... marks a milestone in that country's retreat from democracy."
And in a reminder of international tensions surrounding Russia, the widow of the ex-Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, killed by radiation poisoning in London in 2006, demanded that Medvedev extradite the man wanted by London on suspicion of the murder, Andrei Lugovoi.
"Whether he would move to distance himself and his administration from this barbaric crime or continue covering it up remains to be seen," Marina Litvinenko said.
The presidential inauguration is scheduled for May 7, the head of the presidential adminstration told Interfax news agency.
Date created : 2008-03-02