Russian Election Unfair, European Election Monitors Say

By Associated Press
Monday, December 3, 2007; 6:18 AM

MOSCOW (AP) -- European election monitors said Monday that Russia's parliamentary ballot was unfair, hours after President Vladimir Putin's party swept 70 percent of the seats in the new legislature.

The victory paves the way for Putin to remain Russia's de facto leader even after he leaves office next spring.

Sunday's vote followed a tense Kremlin campaign that relied on a combination of persuasion and intimidation to ensure victory for the United Russia party and for Putin, who has used a flood of oil revenues to move his country into a more assertive position on the global stage.

Luc van den Brande, who headed the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said that officials had brought the "overwhelming influence of the president's office and the president" to bear on the campaign, and that "administrative resources" had been used to influence the outcome.

Goran Lennmarker, president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's parliamentary assembly, said it was "not a fair election."

The Kremlin and its allies hailed the vote as an overwhelming endorsement of Putin and his policies.

"The vote affirmed the main idea: that Vladimir Putin is the national leader, that the people support his course, and this course will continue," party leader and parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov said after exit polls were announced.

The Bush administration called for a probe into voting irregularities. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called the election "the most irresponsible and dirty" in the post-Soviet era and party officials vowed to challenge the results.

Kimmo Kiljunen, vice president of the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, called the elections "strange" and "problematic" because of reports of harassment of parties and confiscation of election materials.

"There was the strange situation that the executive branch almost chose the legislative branch," Kiljunen said. "It is supposed to be the other way round."

With ballots from nearly 98 percent of precincts counted, United Russia was leading with 64.1 percent, while the Communists trailed with 11.6 percent, the Central Election Commission said.

Turnout was about 63 percent, up from 56 percent in the last parliamentary elections four years ago.

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