MOSCOW - Russian opposition leaders plan to rally near the Kremlin Monday to protest Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.
With nearly all the votes counted, Russian officials say Putin won Sunday’s presidential election by a landslide with 64 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Community Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, was far behind with 17 percent. Three other candidates won less than 10 percent.
Opposition leaders call the election a sham, rife with fraud. The independent watchdog agency Golos says it has registered more than 3,000 reports of irregularities, including “carousel voting,” a practice in which busloads of voters are taken from one polling place to another to cast ballots.
Golos spokesman Grigory Melkonyants says that if the election were clean, Putin would be facing a runoff. He said the volume of fraud complaints was as high as December’s parliamentary elections.
Putin Greeted by Cheering Crowd
But Putin says he won what he calls an “open and honest struggle.” He tearfully greeted tens of thousands of supporters outside the Kremlin, thanking him for helping stop the country from, in his words, “falling into the hands of enemies trying to usurp power.”
The late Russian president Boris Yeltsin named Putin his successor on the first day of 2000. Mr. Putin won a presidential election later that year and again in 2004. The constitution barred him from a third consecutive term. Putin has served as Russian prime minister for the last four years under outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin’s critics say he planned to return to the presidency all along and that he never really gave up his powers. A constitutional amendment has extended the president’s time in office to two consecutive six year terms, meaning Putin could stay in power until 2024 - an outlook many Russians find unsettling.
Election Results Questioned
Communist Party candidate Zyuganov denounced Sunday’s election as “illegitimate, unfair and not transparent.” Others complained of doctored voting lists and said pro-Kremlin business leaders installed voting booths in factories and pressured workers to vote for Putin.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, told the Interfax news agency that he doubts the results reflect the true will of Russians. He said the challenge now is to change the country’s election system to make voting fair, and restore direct election for governors.
Source: VOA News