Dmitry Medvedev easily won the race to succeed President Vladimir Putin, official results showed Monday, March 3, in elections seen by critics as Kremlin-orchestrated to divide power between the duo.
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With 99.45 percent of ballots counted, Medvedev won a landslide 70.2 percent, a figure that rivals Putin's 71.3 win in 2004, Central Election Commission results showed.
Medvedev appeared briefly on stage at a Red Square rock concert next to out-going President Vladimir Putin, vowing to ensure stability and continue the policies of his mentor.
"We can preserve the path set by Vladimir Putin and we have every chance of doing that," said Medvedev, as supporters cheered. "Today is a unique day in our country, we have chosen the path long into the future."
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With 65.65 percent of the country's 109 million eligible voters casting ballots, turnout topped figures for Russia's recent parliamentary vote.
But according to critics, the high figure reflected the authorities' use of fraud and coercion to avoid an embarrassingly low turnout.
Medvedev's win over his three challengers was all but guaranteed after Putin's backing propelled him into the public eye well before the start of a campaign which only secured his prime time image on Russian national television stations.
The other three candidates had less than 30 percent of the vote between them, according to the CEC results.
Veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov earned 17.7 percent, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 9.4 percent, while the little-known Andrei Bogdanov won 1.3 percent. All three are considered Kremlin-friendly.
The only liberal opponent, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, had his registration thrown out by the Central Election Committee.
In a rare protest as voters went to the polls, 47-year-old Vladimir, a self-professed writer and activist, walked out of the polling station with his ballot paper in central Moscow.
But most voters left quietly. After casting her vote for Medvedev, one elderly pensioner, Ludmilla, said, "I don't really know what he's like, but Putin will stay in charge -- that's what counts."
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Analysts are now discussing whether Medvedev, a 42-year-old corporate lawyer without the KGB background of his mentor Putin, will mean a more liberal element in the Kremlin than the "siloviki," or security-hawks, who had huge influence during Putin's eight-year dominion.
But Medvedev owes his entire career to Putin, who, appearing alongside him in campaign posters, is set to become prime minister.
Medvedev has vowed "to continue the course set by President Putin," raising doubts whether he will have any independent say under the new power arrangement at the end of Putin's term in May.
Putin congratulated his handpicked successor on his projected victory at a Red Square rock concert on Sunday night. "I congratulate [Medvedev] and wish him success," Putin said, standing by the president-elect on a specially-erected stage.
"The elections have taken place. Our candidate Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev has a confident lead... the elections were in strict accordance with the constitution," Putin added.
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Amid fears of voter apathy, authorities launched frenetic top-down efforts to get out the vote.
Voters across the vast nation received text messages and the promise of lottery prizes and discounts to lure them to the polls, while workers at hospitals and schools were threatened with redundancy, if they did not manage to vote at their workplaces.
Young people in central Moscow mostly said their day's plans did not include voting. "It's not pleasant, it's like Soviet times. They've already decided it all," said Olga, 28, an employee with a Russian oil firm.
"They'll find a way to use the ballot, anyway," echoed her friend with low confidence in the fairness of the vote.
Meanwhile in Russia's volatile southern regions there was a repeat of the boggling, Soviet-style figures during December parliamentary elections that saw almost 100 percent turnout in favor of Putin's party.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-installed president of Chechnya, which has been through two wars since 1994, said Sunday: "If I told you how many people I expected to vote, you wouldn't believe me," Interfax news agency reported.
Former chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov led civil rights groups in declaring the election a "farce" he would not be part of in a protest on Red Square Sunday.
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Independent election monitoring group Golos accused the Kremlin of stripping the elections of all legitimacy by abusing administrative resources to put pressure on regional authorities and receive blanket media coverage.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Europe's leading election monitoring group, boycotted the election, leaving only 300 monitors for Russia's 96,000 polling stations.
But while foreign observers wait for change from the election, most Russian voters seemed to hope for just the opposite.
Putin enjoys huge popularity and has brought back a sense of national pride. He has paid off international debt and re-equipped the military stripped during the country's difficult post-Soviet transition.
"Russia is standing on its feet again," said Dima, a construction worker in open support of Putin, despite casting his vote for nationalist Zhirinovsky.
But Moscow's new assertive foreign policy stance, underpinned by bulging oil revenues, has sparked conflicts with Washington and fear in Brussels.
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With little suspense in the election, the main political uncertainty remains how the untried Putin-Medvedev power-sharing deal will pan out.
While Putin would assume the most powerful executive position in the government over a compliant parliament, Russia has always looked to a strong president to set the country's rhetorical tone.
Medvedev's campaign has been without Putin's characteristic bellicose anti-Western rhetoric. Putin's protege has instead concentrated on social issues in his capacity at the helm of Russia's so-called National Projects to reinvest recent oil wealth.
He has vowed to fight corruption, improve the rule of law, diversify Russia's economy and bring down sky-rocketing inflation in the country of 142 million people.