Putin celebrates victory after polls suggest landslide


PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin addressed a vast crowd of supporters in central Moscow last night, tears streaming from his eyes and declaring victory not only for himself but also for the magnificence of Russia.

Exit polls indicated he was assured a commanding victory in the presidential election. It was a remarkable performance, beginning in humility but becoming more strident by the minute and hinting broadly at victory over outside forces and ending with a cry of “Glory to Russia!”

The crowd, perhaps in the region of 100,000, filled the large Manege Square on the north side of the Kremlin and stretched up the long slope into into the city’s more important thoroughfare, Tverskaya, formerly Gorky Street. They waved Russian tricolours and cheered loudly as president Dmitriy Medvedev introduced Mr Putin as the winner.

It was victory in an open and honest struggle, Mr Putin told them, not merely a vote for the presidency of Russia but a test of the country’s political maturity.

“We have shown that nobody can impose anything on us. Our people are truly capable of easily distinguishing the desire for novelty and renewal from political provocations which are aimed only at breaking the Russian state apart and usurping power,” he said. The people had shown that such plans did not work on on Russian soil, he added.

As results poured in from across the vast territory Mr Putin, with more than 63 per cent, was way ahead of his nearest rival the communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov.

He was on 17 per cent of the vote, with billionaire independent Mikhail Prokhorov and ultra nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky next on just over 7 per cent. Sergei Mironov of the left-of-centre “A Just Russia” was last with less than 4 per cent.

Reports of irregularities abounded throughout the day with Yelena Bychkova of the League of Voters saying the most widespread violations were associated with the misuse of absentee ballots and with the phenomenon known here as “carousel voting” in which groups of people travel around by bus and use absentee papers to vote several times at different stations.

One Irish observer, Eoghan Murphy TD (FG Dublin South East) who was in Moscow as an observer for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said he noted an unusually high proportion of absentee voting certificates cast in the stations that he visited.

He also saw large numbers of uniformed military voting in groups of up to 100 at a time.

Valentin Gorbunov, head of the Moscow City electoral commission, denied there were any attempts at fraud in the city. “It’s all talk; it’s all being paid for.”

But opposition spokesmen and organisations were adamant that falsification was rife.

Undoubtedly, the most bizarre event of the day took place at station 2079 in the Academy of Sciences where Mr Putin voted. About 20 minutes after his departure the station was invaded by members of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen who, with breasts bared, tried to steal the box in which he had cast his ballot.

Three women: Anna Dyeda, Oksana Shachko and Irina Fomina, all of them Ukrainian citizens, where arrested and taken to the Gagarin Police station nearby.

In the heated atmosphere of polling day it was difficult to judge how authentic the claims of falsification were and a much clearer picture is likely to emerge today when the OSCE issues its official report on its observation missions from the parliamentary assembly and the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

There was talk in Moscow last night, however, that these two branches of the same organisation may differ in their accounts of the election with the parliamentarians taking a more outspoken approach than ODIHR which usually couches its views in diplomatic language.

Pro and anti-Putin demonstrations are scheduled to take place in Moscow today and more than 6,000 riot police have been drafted into the capital for the occasion.