There were “serious problems” in the vote that returned Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the nation’s presidency, the head of a major international election observer mission said yesterday, adding fuel to an opposition testing its strength with plans for a massive protest rally.
Putin rolled to victory as expected on Sunday to return to the Kremlin and keep his hold on power for six more years, but opponents claim the voting was rigged.
A rally was set for yesterday evening in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, one of the city’s most iconic locations, with news reports saying about 12,000 police and troops were to be on duty to ensure order.
A brief synopsis by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission did not address complaints of widespread cases of people casting multiple ballots, but said the election “was assessed negatively” in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.
“There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt,” said Tonino Picula, the head of the short-term observer mission.
The Russian Central Elections Commission said the prime minister, who was president from 2000 to 2008, got more than 63 percent of the nationwide vote.
The independent Russian elections watchdog Golos said incomplete reports from its observations of individual polling station counts indicate Putin hovered perilously close to the 50 percent mark needed for a first-round victory.
“It’s one pixel away from a second round,” Golos’ Roman Udot said.
Putin claimed victory on Sunday night when fewer than a quarter of the votes had been counted, his eyes brimming with tears.
He defiantly proclaimed just outside the Kremlin walls before a sea of supporters that they had triumphed over opponents intent on “destroying Russia’s statehood and usurping power.”
The OSCE observers’ conclusions might have significant bearing on whether Russia’s opposition forces will be able to maintain the protests of the past three months, the largest public show of anger in post-Soviet Russia. Opposition demonstrations previously had been severely limited by officials, and any unauthorized gatherings were harshly dispersed by police.