Vladimir Putin had tears in his eyes as he addresses his supporters in Manezhnaya Square in Moscow [REUTERS]
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led the pack in the first report of results announced by the Russian Central
Electoral Commission seconds after polls closed in the country’s presidential election.
He appeared before a crowd of around 100,000 supporters at a square near the Kremlin on Sunday evening to celebrate his victory.
Speaking with the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, at his side, Putin showed uncharacteristic emotion.
“We have won in an open and honest battle,” Putin said with tears in his eyes and his voice hoarse. “I promised you we would win, we won. Glory to Russia!”
Results from polling stations in the Far East on Sunday gave Putin a comfortable lead over his closest rivals
“It’s very clear that very many Russians have voted for Putin, but they’ve done so without the same enthusiasm they’ve had in the past,” Hull said.
“Either because they felt there was no viable choice, or because they had been convinced by the Kremlin rhetoric that Russia would crumble without him.”
.”61.81 per cent is for candidate Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” Vladimir Churov, chairperson of the electoral body, announced.
Exit polls showed that Putin is set to win with a big majority. Putin won 58.3 per cent of the vote according to an exit poll from the state-controlled VTsIOM research group, and 59.3 per cent in a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), effectively ruling out a second round of voting.
Al Jazeera’s Christopher True, reporting from Moscow, said:
“The result was greeted with a small ripple of applause by the various people gathered inside the CEC, as the result that nearly everyone in Russia had expected was effectively confirmed.”
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called the vote “crooked, absolutely unfair and unworthy,” while a senior leader of the protest movement, Vladimir Ryzhkov, said “these elections cannot be considered legitimate in any way.”
The opposition is calling for a rally in Moscow at 7pm local time on Monday.
“In a bid to counteract fraud, two web cameras have been intalled in each of the country’s 90,000 polling stations, one showing the ballot box, the second showing election officials,” True reported.
“Putin is widely expected to win the vote in the first round and all eyes are on whether he will continue with business as usual or bow to some of the protesters’ demands.”
In comments made after he voted in Moscow, Prime Minister Putin said that he was “counting on” a high voter turnout.
Alexei Navalny, an opposition protest organiser and well-known blogger, meanwhile, alleged that “obvious and irrefutable” violations were taking place at polling stations, and that vote counting was “neither fair nor truthful”.
“These are not going to be honest elections, but we must not relent,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who has grown increasingly critical of Putin, said as he cast his ballot.
Golos, an independent monitoring group, said it had already registered 2,283 reports of violations nationwide.
Lilia Shibanova, the executive director of the group, told Al Jazeera there had been “a lot of abuses” in Moscow, central Russia and Baskortostan.
“On the positive side, the web cameras and transparent ballot boxes have surely helped and it is the first time we have been able to monitor the elections in Chechnya, Dagestan and the Caucasus,” she said.
An interior ministry spokesperson said there had been no major violations. Ria Novosti news agency is quoting a source in that Dagestan election commission as saying the results at that polling station where apparent ballot staffing was observed through the live web cams – will be canceled.
Putin victory forecast
Victory for 59-year-old ex-KGB spy Putin appeared inevitable, with state pollsters forecasting a first-round win with 60 per cent of the vote.
His Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov – a dour but seasoned lawmaker who is running for the fourth time – is polling in second place with 17.85 per cent of the vote according to the results released by the CEC.
The tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov had 7.5 per cent, behind the flamboyant but ultimately pro-Kremlin populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (8 per cent). The former upper house speaker Sergey Mironov is currently looking to finish last, with 3.7 per cent.
Opponents said the voting was heavily skewed to help the former KGB spy return to the Kremlin after four years
as prime minister and vowed to step up three months of protests against him. Some voters said they were forced to
vote for him.
As polls closed, thousands of Putin’s supporters came to Manezh square just outside the Kremlin to celebrate