President Vladimir Putin’s chosen candidate Dmitry Medvedev has won Russia’s presidential election on Sunday by a huge margin, according to an exit polls and first official results.
Figures from state-owned pollster VTsIOM said Medvedev had won 69.6% of the vote, way ahead of his nearest challenger, veteran Communist Gennady Zyuganov, on 17.2%. First official results showed a similar trend, giving Medvedev 64.55% with 16% of polling stations reporting. Opinion polls had consistently predicted a huge Medvedev win right from the moment in December last year, when Putin picked him as his preferred successor. Many voters credit Putin with Russia’s biggest economic boom in a generation and saw Medvedev as the best option to keep their new-found prosperity and guard against a return to the economic crises of the 1990s. Attention will now turn to how Medvedev plans to govern when he takes over from Putin in May.
Putin, by far Russia’s most powerful politician, has said he intends to keep influence by serving under Medvedev as prime minister, an unusual reversal of roles. Despite assurances by both men that they enjoy a good working relationship, some analysts have voiced concern about, how a two-headed government might operate in practice. A 42-year-old lawyer from St Petersburg, Medvedev has worked with Putin for 18 years, most recently as chairman of Russia’s gas giant Gazprom and first deputy prime minister. The Kremlin has promoted him as a Putin continuity candidate, though relatively little is known about his political beliefs and priorities. Medvedev limited himself during the campaign to one, paid-for interview, shunned many foreign media and gave only a couple of program speeches which mostly stressed continuity with Putin.
Opposition politicians, some of them barred from running complained that biased media coverage, harassment of challengers and massive official support for Medvedev had turned the whole affair into a farce. Communist leader and election runner-up Zyuganov, speaking after polls closed, said he was concerned about what he termed large-scale falsifications of votes. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking earlier, dismissed criticism about the conduct of the election. He said a forecast high turnout “speaks to the active political participation of the people of Russia and many of them are choosing to vote for a continuation of the changes”. Election officials said turnout was likely to be up to 70%, higher than the 64% recorded in December’s parliamentary elections and in the last presidential election in 2004. (Reuters)