Preliminary results have shown that Vladimir Putin will complete his long-expected return as Russia's president after polling around 63% in yesterday's election, thus avoiding the need for a second round. Commenting on the outcome of the election, ELDR President Sir Graham Watson MEP stated, "there are wide-spread and seemingly justified reservations about the extent to which this was a free and fair contest, not only in the way the procedures were conducted on the day itself, but in the handling of the process from the very beginning, including the refusal to register some candidatures."
Despite much publicised initiatives to make these elections fair and transparent, such as the installation of closed circuit television cameras at polling stations, the electoral process as a whole has been widely condemned as favoring the Putin campaign from the outset.
Evidence of this stretches back to the refusal by the Russian Central Electoral Commission to register opposition candidates, including former YABLOKO leader Grigory Yavlinsky on the grounds of perceived irregularities when in fact political engineering of the elections was the more likely reason.
On what the future may hold, Sir Graham added that Putin should not expect the Russian people to blindly accept his rule. "Vladimir Putin might have got his way in so far as the outcome of the election is concerned, but the demonstrations that have taken place since December's parliamentary elections and the increasing criticism that he is facing from significant sections of the population and media show that he will not be in for an easy ride over the next six years. The extent of ill-feeling towards President Putin may even cast doubt on his ability to serve the full-term unless he fundamentally addresses issues related to the rule of law and the democratic, economic and social development of Russian society".