Putin Declares Victory in Russian Presidential Election

Posted March 4th, 2012 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has claimed victory in Sunday's presidential election, which will see him return for a record third term in office as president.

A state-run polling institute gives Mr. Putin 63.5 percent of the vote — enough to avoid a second-round runoff.

In a speech to thousands of supporters gathered in central Moscow, Mr. Putin said they won in an open and fair election. He added that the vote was a test of Russia's “political maturity and independence.”

Mr. Putin, who served as Russian president from 2000 to 2008, faced four challengers in Sunday's vote.

Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov placed second with 17.25 percent of the vote, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov both came in third with about 7 percent. Former Putin ally Sergei Mironov placed last in the 2004 presidential election and did so again, receiving 3.7 percent.

The election was marred by accusations of widespread violations. Independent watchdog agency Golos says it has received more than 2,000 reports of irregularities, including so-called “carousel voting,” a practice in which busloads of voters are taken from one polling place to another to cast ballots.

Some 200,000 volunteer poll-watchers were deployed across the country to monitor the voting. This is in addition to another 600,000 Internet users who have registered to monitor web cameras installed in most of Russia's nearly 100,000 polling stations.

Opposition leaders decried the election as a sham.

“These elections are not free and therefore they are forgeries, the authority which so-called elected, is not legitimate. That's why we'll have protests tomorrow, and we will not recognize the president as the legitimate president, president of all Russians.”

Opposition leaders say they are organizing mass protests for Monday in Moscow and Russia's other big cities.