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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin coasted to a third presidential term in elections held on Sunday amid widespread accusations of voter fraud. He previously served two terms as president from 2000 to 2008 but was barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term. Incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev is already slated to serve as prime minister — a deal made with Putin during last year’s United Russia party congress.
With 80% of the vote counted, Putin led with 65% of ballots cast. Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov finished a distant second with 17%. Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the NBA New Jersey Nets, finished in single digits.
Putin’s victory has come at a huge cost. It is sure to energize the growing opposition to his rule that has seen tens of thousands of Russians turn out for demonstrations in the dead of winter. There will also be a price to pay with regards to the steadily deteriorating relations with the United States. The US has strongly criticized the Russian government for its intransigence at the UN regarding the Syrian revolt, as well as openly siding with the protestors who are bitter over what is widely seen as a stolen parliamentary election last year.
In a victory speech on Sunday night, Putin addressed a large throng in Manezh square outside the Kremlin and, as his eyes brimmed with tears, proclaimed, “I promised that we would win and we have won! We have won in an open and honest struggle.”
Most independent and opposition election observers would vehemently disagree. The many charges of vote fraud include:
• “Carousel voting” where large groups of voters go from polling place to polling place to cast several ballots.
• “Centralized voting” where managers of factories, schools, hospitals, and other large organizations pressure employees to vote for a candidate. Ballots are sometimes collected at the workplace.
• The Guardian reports “Two women hover over a ballot box in the industrial Russian city of Cherepovets, stuffing in ballot after ballot.”
• As usual, the Caucasus vote was nearly 100% for Putin and United Russia.
• Videos from various parts of the country showed numerous other cases of ballot stuffing. The independent election monitoring group Golos reports 5,000 complaints of irregularities and fraud in the vote.
“Russia has no legitimate government or legitimate president,” opposition leader Alexey Navalny said. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the election was “illegitimate, unfair and intransparent.”
But Putin defiantly told the cheering crowd of supporters that “this was not only the election of president of Russia, this was a very important test for all of us, for our entire people. This was a test for political maturity, for independence.”
Protestors are planning massive rallies in Moscow and other major cities beginning Monday. Putin has warned that “unsanctioned” protests will be dealt with harshly. Moscow police — 35,000 will be on the streets on Monday — have called up 6,500 reserves and plans a show of force to prevent independent groups — angry at protest organizers who have scheduled a sanctioned demonstration far from the Kremlin — from marching to Manezh Square and pitching tents, imitating the “Occupy” movements in various western countries. A popular anti-Putin blogger has vowed to lead the unsanctioned protest, saying, “People need to go out on the streets and not leave until their demands are met.”
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