Western criticism overshadows Medvedev’s election romp


Moscow : Criticism by Western and Russian observers has overshadowed Dmitry Medvedev’s landslide win to succeed Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, but his promise of continuity was widely seen as Russia’s choice.

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The elections were “neither free nor fair”, said Andreas Gross, chief of the sole Western election observer mission to Russia.

“For an election to be good it takes a good process, not just a good election day,” Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) mission, told journalists Monday.

With nearly all ballots counted, Medvedev had 70.1 percent of the vote, beating out his nearest opponent by more than a 50 percent margin.

But critics charged that Sunday’s vote was unacceptably heavily Kremlin-orchestrated to transfer power to Putin’s handpicked successor while opening a path for Putin to retain power.

Medvedev’s win over his three challengers was all but guaranteed after Putin’s backing propelled him into the public eye well before the start of a campaign, which only served to secured his prime time image news reports.

Russia’s independent vote-monitoring group Golos joined PACE in bemoaning unequal conditions for candidate registration and an abuse of administrative resources Medvedev, whose campaign chief was the Kremlin’s chief of staff.

Medvedev, who holds both a cabinet post and chairmanship of the energy giant Gazprom, will be Russia’s youngest leader ever at his inauguration May 7.

But two weeks after assuming office he is expected to appoint Putin prime minister, leaving the only election uncertainty who will rule over Russia’s resurgent oil wealth and military might.

Facing reporters after his win, Medvedev staked his authority over foreign policy: “The constitution leaves the president in charge of foreign policy.”

Western governments may well hope Medvedev, 42, a corporate lawyer without the KGB background of his mentor Putin, brings a more liberal stance to the Kremlin than the “siloviki” or security-hawks who had huge influence under Putin’s eight-year reign.

Medvedev’s campaign was built around his role supervising Russia’s welfare and agrarian programmes. He encouraged his liberal image by pledging to fight corruption, improve the rule of law and diversify Russia’s economy.

Even in his only trip abroad, Medvedev appeared more the businessman, cutting pipeline deals for Gazprom in Eastern Europe.

State giant Gazprom meanwhile showed its aggressive face Monday cutting by 25 percent shipments of Russian gas to Ukraine over a payment dispute in a move that could pare down supplies to Europe.

Medvedev played up his youthful image, appearing in a black leather jacket at a rock concert on Red Square to celebrate his victory, but Putin stood at his side in a repeat of campaign scenes.

At each of his public appearance, Medvedev has parroted promises to “follow the course set by Putin”.

Putin enjoys stunning popularity, having brought back a sense of national pride and stability underpinned by soaring oil prices that most Russians are thankful for after a difficult Soviet transition.

Moscow Patriarch Alexei II blessed Medvedev’s win Monday, calling it proof of the population’s confidence in Putin’s rule.

PACE’s Gross meanwhile moderated his criticism Monday, saying “to reduce the whole election to a spin by the forces working in the Kremlin, would be too simple.

“The president-elect will have a solid mandate given him by the majority of Russians,” he said.

Young activist pro-Putin groups demonstrated on Monday outside the US embassy in Moscow against US foreign policy in Kosovo and planned missile defence base in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, members of Russia special police unit OMON arrested over 50 supporters of ex-chess champion and fierce Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, who held an unauthorised protest.

Kasparov, who dubbed Sunday’s election a Kremlin-orchestrated “farce,” was participating in parallel marches in St. Petersburg where over 1,000 activists had gathered, news agency Ekho Moskvy reported.

Local television and websites largely ignored news of the protests Monday.