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3 Mar, 2008 02:17

Whopping lead for Medvedev

A new era in Russia is set to begin, with 42-year-old Dmitry Medvedev almost certain to become the country`s next president. The Central Election Commission says he`s gained 70.2% of votes, while his closest rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, has just 17.

Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky is in third with 9.4% and Democratic Party leader Andrey Bogdanov has 1.3%.

Official preliminary results will be released at 10am Moscow time (7am GMT).

The final results will be announced on March 7 and two months after that, on May 7, the next Russian president will be sworn in.

Vladimir Putin congratulated Dmitry Medvedev on his clear lead when the two appeared onstage at a live concert by the Kremlin walls in central Moscow.

The 42-year-old Medvedev thanked voters.

“It is a special day. And despite the bad weather it is a special day in the life of our country. We are choosing our way for many years. And we have a chance to continue develop as we have been doing in the recent years, make our country more stable, improve the quality of life, move forward using the plan that we’ve been using all these years. I’m completely sure that we must choose this path – and we’ve got all the opportunities we need. And today’s election – in which you have taken part – and I want to thank everyone who has voted for me!” he said.

Speaking to journalists at his headquarters, Dmitry Medvedev said that in the nearest two months he “would like to participate in forming the executive power in our country”.

“It's an important and difficult task requiring much work. And I do hope that during these two months I will be able to do this. I will work along with Vladimir Putin as future Prime Minister, and Ii hope that as a result of this work we will have an efficient fully-fledged executive power,” he said.

As for the course he would like to take, Medvedev said “it will be a direct continuation of the path chosen by President Putin”.

“Foreign policy, according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, is determined by the president. We must have an independent foreign policy – the policy that we’ve had in the last eight years, the essence of which is the protection of Russian interests,” he said.

Mixed reaction from rivals

The reactions from the other candidates have been a mixture of anger, bitterness and resignation.

“I don’t accept Medvedev’s victory. This is the result that they’ve planned and managed to get. Some regions show an unbelievable result for Medvedev up to 97% and it’s a fake. I don’t want to work this way. It’s humiliating for the country, for its citizens and for the Central Election Commission,” said Gennady Zyuganov.

“I’m not satisfied. How can I be satisfied with these 12%? I’m sure more people voted for me, three times more, 30-36% should be my figure,” Vladimir Zhirinovsky said.

Andrey Bogdanov says he hasn’t noticed significant violations of the election process.

“I’m satisfied with my result. I can say that neither the Democratic Party, nor I have any significant criticism of the election process. There have been minor violations which can hardly be called such,” said Andrey Bogdanov.

No reports of serious violations

The election has been monitored by 235 international observers.

CIS observers as well as election monitors from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have called the ballot free, fair and in line with international standards.

Representatives of several European missions have also said they haven't noted any serious violations.

“Everyone is asking me what’s been happening. Everyone is waiting for something unusual. But for me it’s been quite boring. Everything is just like in France, in Italy, in the United States. I have noticed something interesting though. When Russian people vote they think not only about their own welfare but about what’s good for the whole country, for its future,” one of the observers said.

Voting across the country

Around 100 million Russians were eligible to vote at around 100,000 polling stations.

Just hours after the voting kicked off nationwide Russia’s Central Election Committee stated that it expected an even higher turn out than last time.

“The average turnout in all regions is three to five percent higher, compared to the parliamentary polls in December and the presidential election in 2004,” the chairman of Central Election Committee, Vladimir Churov said.

One after the other, presidential hopefuls cast their votes. And despite the clear difference in their expectations of success, all seemed cheered.

Outgoing president Vladimir Putin was in holiday mode when he voted.

“My spirits are high. My mood is festive. It was raining when I was leaving home. My wife said this is a good sign,” he told reporters.

Mikhail Gorbachev – the last Soviet leader – was modest in his rhetoric – probably because it was his birthday on Sunday, but still criticized what he believed to be a pre-determined result.

“Every vote we've had in Russia, is a poor comparison to the one in 1989. That one was open and fair. Whilst I can't say the same about the five times we've done it in the last 17 years,” Gorbachev said.