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Russian Elections Did Not Reflect Democratic Principles,  Concludes OSCE - 2004-03-15

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to press ahead with social, economic and political reforms after securing a resounding victory in Sunday's national election. But the election is drawing criticism from opposition challengers and international observers, who say it was not genuinely democratic.

Mr. Putin said in remarks shown on Russian state television that in his second term the government will work to solidify "the democratic gains of the previous four years."

Speaking several hours after polls closed and first, unofficial results were announced, President Putin said his government would work to sustain further economic growth and strengthen civil society and media freedom.

He also said that with stability more or less in place, in his view, raising Russians' standard of living remains his primary goal.

Mr. Putin said not enough has been done to raise at least a quarter of the population out of poverty.

He also pledged to ensure Russia has a multi-party political system - something critics say it has now in name only, with Mr. Putin able to manipulate the media to ensure his re-election.

In the international arena, Mr. Putin pledged to press Russia's national interests without resorting to "aggressive" or "confrontational" measures.

Russia's Central Election Commission Chief, Alexander Veshnyakov, announced Mr. Putin's landslide win early Monday morning in Moscow, after 99 percent of the votes had been counted. Mr. Veshnyakov said the incumbent president secured 71.2 percent of the vote.

According to Mr. Veshnyakov, only one of President Putin's five challengers attracted more than ten percent of the vote. That was Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist party, who received 14 percent. Turnout was reported at 64 percent, well over the 50 percent required for the election to be valid.

Mr. Veshnyakov says final, official results of the Russian presidential election must be released by March 25. But he noted that was just a formality and said he was certain the results would hold.

He also reported some minor violations during Sunday's voting, but said they were dealt with on the spot.

Opposition challengers and international observers dispute that claim, saying the election was marred from the start by excessive pressure on voters and misuse of the media by the incumbent president.

Julian Peel Yates is the head of a joint mission from the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe and the parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He told reporters Monday in Moscow that, overall, Russia's presidential vote was lacking.

"The election process overall did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election process," he said. "Essential elements of the OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections, such as a vibrant political discourse and meaningful pluralism, were lacking. The election process failed to meet important commitments concerning treatment by the state-controlled media on a non-discriminatory basis."

At the same time, Mr. Yates commended Russia for holding a "generally well-administered election." But he said observers recorded instances of misuse of official positions, and even cases of intimidation, which detracted from that.