Russians vote to elect new president

March 2nd, 2008 - 5:02 pm ICT by admin  

Moscow, March 2 (DPA) Russians voted Sunday in the presidential election seen by critics as Kremlin’s orchestration to divide power between Vladimir Putin and his favoured successor Dmitry Medvedev. Polls opened at 8.00 am (20.00 GMT) in snow covered Moscow, a full night after the first voters cast their votes in Russia’s Far East, 11 time zones away from where voting ends in the European enclave of Kaliningrad at 2000 hrs (1800 GMT) Sunday.

Medvedev’s win over his three challengers is all but guaranteed after Putin’s endorsement propelled him into the public eye well before the start of a campaign which only secured his prime time image on Russian national television stations.

Polls by the state-owned VTsIOM and independent Levada Centre showed Medvedev, who both holds a cabinet post and heads energy giant Gazprom, with over 60 per cent of the vote.

The other candidates veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, ultra nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the little known Andrei Bogdanov are widely seen as Kremlin friendly. The only liberal opponent former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov had his registration thrown out by the Central Election Committee.

Vladimir, 47, a self-professed writer and activist, walked out of the polling station with his ballot in central Moscow.

But it was a rare protest Sunday morning. “I don’t really know what he’s like,” one elderly pensioner, Ludmilla, said of the Kremlin’s top candidate. “But Putin will stay in charge, that’s what counts.”

Analysts guess at whether Medvedev, a 42-year-old corporate lawyer without the KGB background of his mentor Putin, means a more liberal element in the Kremlin than the siloviki or security-hawks that had huge influence under Putin’s eight-year reign.

But Medvedev owes his entire career to Putin, who appearing alongside him in campaign posters is set to become prime minister.

Medvedev’s vows “to continue the course set by President Putin” raises doubts whether he will have any independent say under the new power constellation at the end of Putin’s term in May.

Amid fears of voter apathy, authorities have launched frantic efforts to get out the vote. Analyst say a low turnout could embarrass the Kremlin which views the election as the second phase of a referendum on Putin three months after his party won a majority in parliament.

Former chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov led civil rights group in declaring the election a “farce” Saturday.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, one of the few international vote-observers on the ground after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) boycotted the election, earlier said the election “could hardly be considered fair.”

While foreign observers wait for change from the election, most Russian voters seemed to hope for just the opposite.

Putin enjoys stunning popularity having brought back a sense of national pride paying off international debt and re-equipping the military stripped during the country’s difficult post-Soviet transition.

In total, around 109 million Russians are eligible to vote including cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko, who was voting from the orbiting International Space Station, Russian television reported Saturday.

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