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Putin's Chosen Successor, Medvedev, Elected in Russia

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 3, 2008

MOSCOW, March 3 -- After 24 hours of voting across 11 time zones, Russians handed Dmitry Medvedev an overwhelming victory in the presidential election Sunday despite a lackluster campaign that was more coronation than contest from the moment President Vladimir Putin endorsed him in December.

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With 97 percent of the precincts counted early Monday, Medvedev had more than 70 percent of the vote, according to the Central Election Commission. That percentage nearly matches Putin's tally in 2004 and infuses Medvedev's victory with the numbers to claim a clear mandate for the next four years.

As expected, Medvedev crushed the anemic challenges of three opponents who never had a chance to debate him and were drowned out by a deafening media drumbeat that Medvedev was "Putin's choice" and that his victory would ensure the continuation of the popular president's policies.

The two appeared at a concert in Red Square late Sunday, and Medvedev pointedly spoke first.

"We can maintain the course proposed by Putin," Medvedev told the crowd. "I am certain that we have every chance to do this. We will continue to move ahead together. We will win."

Putin congratulated his protege and noted that "such a victory carries a lot of obligations."

The election commission reported that about 64 percent of Russia's 109 million voters had cast ballots at 96,000 polling stations, a record for a presidential election.

Medvedev was trailed by Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov, who had 18 percent of the vote. Earlier in the counting, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 10 percent and Andrei Bogdanov, an ostensible liberal, 1.5 percent.

"I voted for Medvedev because Zhirinovsky is ridiculous, Zyuganov is too old and I don't know who Bogdanov is," Viktor Fomenkov, 53, a machine operator in Moscow, said after casting his vote. "And Medvedev is the right hand of our president. I believe in him. I believe he will continue the line that our president started."

Opposition figures such as Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and Putin opponent, said they boycotted the vote, calling it a farce. Potentially vocal opponents, including former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, never got on the ballot.

The opposition charged that regional officials were under government instructions to ensure a healthy majority for the Kremlin's man and that public employees were pressured to vote for Medvedev.

Zyuganov, alleging widespread irregularities, said he would probably challenge the vote in court.


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