Putin's Chosen Successor Leads in Early Results

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Vladimir Putin and his hand-picked successor Dmitri Medvedev greet their supporters. i

Vladimir Putin, left, and his hand-picked successor Dmitri Medvedev greet their supporters during a concert to mark the presidential election at Moscow's Red Square late Sunday. Vladimir Rodionov/RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Vladimir Rodionov/RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service/AP
Vladimir Putin and his hand-picked successor Dmitri Medvedev greet their supporters.

Vladimir Putin, left, and his hand-picked successor Dmitri Medvedev greet their supporters during a concert to mark the presidential election at Moscow's Red Square late Sunday.

Vladimir Rodionov/RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service/AP
Russians cast their ballots for president on voting day in Moscow. i

Russians cast their ballots for president on voting day in Moscow. Gregory Feifer, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gregory Feifer, NPR
Russians cast their ballots for president on voting day in Moscow.

Russians cast their ballots for president on voting day in Moscow.

Gregory Feifer, NPR

Russian President Vladimir Putin's chosen successor has won a resounding victory in the country's presidential election on Sunday, according to partial results. But as Russia prepares to enter the post-Putin era, opposition leaders say the results were rigged and that Sunday's event was not an election, but a coronation.

The weather in the Russian capital reflected the opposition's mood: It was raw and gray, with rain, snow and sleet. The conditions couldn't have pleased the Kremlin much, either. The authorities' main concern has been for a high turnout to help the election appear legitimate. Local officials across Russia enticed voters with free food, prizes and even free haircuts.

At a voting station inside a Moscow school, music played while a trickle of voters cast their ballots. There was no feeling of suspense. Only a major surprise could have stopped Dmitri Medvedev from winning.

Outside, pensioner Olga Kaverina, who said she had voted for Medvedev, repeated what has become a mantra — saying Putin has brought stability to Russia.

"Putin's done a great job," she said. "He's forced other countries to respect Russia's opinion. And Medvedev represents the country's bright future."

But critics say the Kremlin has reinstituted authoritarianism in Russia. Opposition leaders were barred from running in the election, including chess champion Garry Kasparov. He urged Russians to boycott the ballot and called the process a farce.

"It's the end of the political system which contained elements of democracy," he said. "And we moved to kind of quasi-monarchy with power being shifted within the ruling elite, and the public used only just to cover up this procedure."

Most Western election observers also boycotted the election, saying they couldn't work under Moscow's severe restrictions. Lilia Shibanova of the independent Russian vote monitoring agency Golos says the authorities pressured voters to cast their ballots for Medvedev.

Shibanova said many people are reporting their bosses forced them to vote for Medvedev using absentee ballots or risk losing their jobs. Shibanova said officials also assembled groups of people who drove to different polling stations and voted many times.

The Kremlin denied the results were falsified, and Medvedev's campaign chief, Sergei Sobyanin, praised the higher-than-expected turnout reported by the elections commission.

Sobyanin said the result means the vote was free and fair.

But while Medvedev may be preparing to take over as Russia's new president, no one is expecting Putin to fade away. Medvedev says he wants to appoint Putin as his prime minister, a post many believe the outgoing president will use to hold on to power from behind the scenes.

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