Soviet Election More Democratic Than This One, Says Gorbachev

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Moscow ( - In an outcome that was widely predicted, Kremlin-backed candidate Dmitry Medvedev crushed his opponents in Russia's presidential election on Sunday. He vowed to uphold the legacy of his predecessor and mentor.

President Vladimir Putin's 42-year-old first deputy prime minister will became Russia's youngest leader since Nicholas II, who was crowned more than a century ago.

Critics of the poll include the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, who claimed as he cast his vote that Soviet legislative elections held in 1989 were more open and democratic than Sunday's vote. (The March 1989 elections for the Congress of People's Deputies was the first time voters in the Soviet Union were allowed to chose members of a national legislative body.)

Preliminary results indicated that Medvedev won about 70 percent of the vote, followed by Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov with about 18 percent. Ultra nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky scored around 10, and the final candidate, virtual unknown Andrei Bogdanov, got around one percent.

Official results will be published on March 7. About 65 percent of the 109 million eligible voters turned out to vote, the Central Election Commission said.

Medvedev told supporters earlier that Russia had to safeguard stability and move forward, while Putin, who is expected to become prime minister and retain influence, urged Russians to unite "in the name of our great motherland."

Enjoying unlimited support from Putin and the government, Medvedev did little campaigning ahead of Sunday's vote, yet still received extensive, sympathetic prime time coverage from national state-controlled television.

So predictable was his victory that Russian bookmakers stopped taking bets on the outcome, and the focus switched instead to the size of the voter turnout. Putin had appealed to Russians to vote in large numbers, to show they endorsed his chosen successor.

Medvedev has pledged not to deviate from Putin's political and economic course, a course that has seen relations with the U.S. increasingly strained during the closing months of Putin's presidency.

Medvedev is expected to continue Putin's policies of opposing U.S. missile defense plans for eastern Europe, rejecting Kosovo's recent declaration of independence from Serbia and Western support for its sovereignty, and resisting moves by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.

At the same time, Medvedev has also argued that ongoing cooperation between Russia and the United States will be "inevitable."

Hand-picked by Putin last December, Russia's incoming president remains largely unknown. "I don't know much about Medvedev,'' President Bush told reporters in Washington last week.

Critics accused the Kremlin of turning the election into a farce, and Communist leader Zyuganov claimed there were massive violations and "falsifications" across Russia during the vote.

Opposition activists also claimed that the authorities used inappropriate methods to lure Russians to the polls and so bolster the turnout. Cheap goods were sold at polling stations, and voters were also offered various discounts as an incentive to vote.

Among other controversies, Putin's former prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, tried to run but was not registered as a candidate. Last month, Europe's main election-monitoring institution decided against sending monitors to Russia, citing "restrictions'' on the composition and duration of its mission, set by Russian authorities.

On Monday, the only Western group to monitor Russia's election expressed disappointment in the way things went: "The results of the presidential a reflection of the will of an electorate whose democratic potential was, unfortunately, not tapped," the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's observer mission said in a statement.

PACE questioned "how free the election was," given concerns about "equal access of the candidates to the media and the public sphere in general."

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