Sergei Blagov | Commentary | Monday, March 15, 2004
Preliminary data released after the last of 95,000 polling stations in Russia's 11 time zones closed showed Putin winning nearly 70 percent of votes cast.
Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov ran a distant second with some 14
percent, while nearly four percent of voters selected the "against all" option, declaring their dissatisfaction with all six candidates.
Even though the outcome was a foregone conclusion, the 61-percent voter turnout far exceeded the 50 percent mark required to make the presidential election constitutionally valid.
The actual election day followed an uninspiring campaign that sparked little excitement among Russia's 109 million voters, although Putin's unusual decisions to replace his prime minister and form a new cabinet ahead of victory, rather than after, did arouse comment.
The former KGB agent, who now begins a second four-year term, told the country he would "work in the same mode," promising to oversee economic growth and strengthen media freedom.
In recent weeks, opposition candidates criticized the largely government-controlled media, charging bias in the president's favor. It was noted that Putin did not even need to campaign, as state-controlled national television reported his daily activities.
Moscow's Central Election Commission rejected an official complaint about media coverage, although the U.S. added its voice to the criticism.
"We are concerned about the way this election is being held," Secretary of State Colin Powell the Fox television network on Sunday.
"Russians have to understand that to have full democracy of the kind the international community will recognize, you've got to let candidates have all access to the media that the president has," he added.
Putin's election campaign chief, Dmitry Kozak, dismissed the U.S. criticism, attributing it to American domestic political considerations.
"Russian voters have a considerable experience of democratic elections and do not need tutoring, notably from representatives of a country with clearly flawed electoral
procedures," commented Kozak, who was recently appointed chief of staff of the new Russian cabinet.
Nearly 1,000 foreign observers, including representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, monitored the poll. The OSCE was highly critical of the last Russian election, won Putin loyalists gained control over parliament in December election.
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