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Russians choose Putin successor in one-sided election

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080302/wl_afp/russiavote_080302000712;_ylt=AsAV0zcpm6cEN9OQ6eZRZbBn.3QA Russians choose Putin successor in one-sided election by
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2008
      http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080302/wl_afp/russiavote_080302000712;_ylt=AsAV0zcpm6cEN9OQ6eZRZbBn.3QA

      Russians choose Putin successor in one-sided election

      by Vyacheslav Murashko 49 minutes ago

      PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia (AFP) - Russians
      voted on Sunday in a presidential poll seen by critics
      as rigged to hand almost certain victory to Vladimir
      Putin's favoured candidate, Dmitry Medvedev.

      Voting began on the Pacific coast of the world's
      biggest country and was to roll 12,000 kilometres
      (7,500 miles) west to Moscow and on to the Baltic Sea
      territory of Kaliningrad to close at 1800 GMT Sunday.

      Medvedev faces three challengers, but his overwhelming
      victory was almost a foregone conclusion after a
      campaign in which Russia's heavily censored television
      networks rammed home the message that he is Putin's
      anointed successor.

      Opinion polls predict Medvedev, currently first deputy
      premier and head of gas monopoly Gazprom, will win at
      least 60 percent of the vote.

      None of the other candidates -- Communist Party leader
      Gennady Zyuganov, populist nationalist Vladimir
      Zhirinovsky and the almost unknown Andrei Bogdanov --
      presents a serious challenge.

      The first voters however did not seem to mind that the
      contest was lopsided.

      "Today is a kind of festival.... All of Russia's
      people are going to vote for a new president," student
      and first-time voter Kirill told AFP in the coastal
      city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, where snow lay thick
      on the ground.

      "I liked Putin's policies and hope he will continue
      them," local fisherman Sergei, 37, said of Medvedev,
      while stopping at a polling station on the way to his
      trawler.

      Voting in Vladivostok, telecoms engineer Gennady
      Dultsev complained that "everything is again being
      decided in a Soviet way" and cited the imposition of
      price controls on some goods ahead of the election
      season. But he too said he had voted for Medvedev.

      "Of course I don't like everything about the current
      politics.... Everything has already been decided for
      us, that Medvedev will become president, but that's
      not the worst possible outcome," he told AFP.

      At 42, Medvedev reflects a new generation of
      post-Soviet politicians in one of the world's biggest
      energy exporters and a major nuclear power. Unlike
      Putin, he has no KGB or other security service
      background.

      However, Medvedev says his main goal is to follow
      Putin's course and he is set to install his mentor as
      prime minister.

      This suggests that Putin, 55, will continue to
      dominate well beyond Medvedev's likely inauguration in
      May.

      Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion turned
      fierce Kremlin critic, on Saturday attacked the polls
      as a "farce," while democracy groups also lashed out.

      Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International
      and Russian election monitoring agency Golos said the
      Kremlin had stage-managed the contest through media
      bias, pressure on regional leaders, and use of state
      resources.

      The vote "can hardly be considered as fair," said the
      Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which
      deployed 25 observers.

      The main European election monitoring body, the
      Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
      (OSCE), boycotted the vote altogether, citing
      restrictions on its monitors.

      Russian officials have described such criticism as
      meddling in the national political process.

      The authorities have made epic efforts to bring the
      ballot box to as many people as possible, including
      reindeer herders and fishermen in some of the
      country's most far-flung regions.

      Even cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko was to transmit his
      vote from the orbiting International Space Station.

      If confirmed, Medvedev will take the reins of a
      country of 142 million people that has been
      transformed since Putin rose from obscurity in 2000 to
      replace the ailing and unpopular Boris Yeltsin.

      Russia is among the world's leading energy exporters
      and has used soaring gas and oil revenues to rebuild
      its military and pay off foreign debts.

      Economic confidence is also fueling a bullish foreign
      policy that puts Moscow at odds with the West.

      Putin's few remaining outspoken opponents accuse him
      of dismantling democratic freedoms established in the
      1990s -- reducing parliament to a rubber stamp,
      failing to investigate murders of opposition figures
      and journalists, and committing massive war crimes in
      Chechnya.

      Putin points to huge popular approval ratings.

      Polls open in each of Russia's 11 time zones at 8:00
      am local time with final polling stations closing on
      Sunday in Kaliningrad at 1800 GMT. Around 109 million
      Russians are eligible to vote.

      The police were on heightened alert, with 24,000
      personnel patrolling Moscow, deputy police chief
      Vyacheslav Kozlov told ITAR-TASS.
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