Sunday, March 2, 2008

Blips on the Screen: 2 Mar 08

Keeping an eye of Russia

From Reuters March 2, 2008

Russia's Medvedev set for presidency

By Christian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dmitry Medvedev was elected as Russia's next president, early results showed on Sunday, after a vote that will preserve the power of his mentor President Vladimir Putin but which opponents said was unfair.

Medvedev, a 42-year-old former lawyer who has worked at Putin's side since the 1990s, will take over the trappings of the presidency from his patron in May but it was still unclear which of the two men would really be in charge.

Two hours after voting finished, a smiling Medvedev walked out of the Kremlin gates alongside Putin and the two men took to the stage at a celebratory concert on Red Square.

"The elections have taken place and our candidate, Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev, has a confident lead," the Russian leader said to chants of "Putin! Putin!" from the crowd. "The elections were in strict accordance with the constitution."

Medvedev, dressed in a black leather jacket and blue jeans, promised to stay true to his mentor's policies.

"We are choosing our path of development for a long time ahead and we have a chance to ... cement stability and carry on down the path we have been traveling down for the past few years," he said.

Defeated Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov expressed concern about irregularities, though he did not challenge the overall result. Western monitors were preparing to issue a tough verdict on a vote they say offered people little real choice.

But Russia voters are enjoying the biggest economic boom in a generation and most see Medvedev as the best hope of prolonging their new prosperity.

He has asked the 55-year-old Putin to be his prime minister and promised to continue his mentor's policies.

"I think that he (Putin) will, at least at the beginning, be the key figure," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-linked political analyst and member of parliament.

Updated results from an exit poll by state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Medvedev 70.1 percent of the vote. Zyuganov was in second with 16.8 percent.

In the official count, Medvedev was leading with 66.50 percent after ballots from 30 percent of polling stations had been counted.

The outgoing president, barred by term limits from running in this election, will step down in May and move the short distance down the Moskva river to the prime minister's office in the government headquarters, known here as the White House.

The handover has been smooth for now but observers question how Putin and Medvedev will make their double act work in a country which is used to having a single, strong ruler.

Analysts warn a post-election honeymoon could soon run into problems over the economy too, with inflation rising and the budget dangerously vulnerable to a fall in the price for oil, Russia's main export.


Medvedev's victory follows a one-sided campaign in which the former corporate lawyer refused to take part in televised debates and enjoyed lavish coverage on state television.

Election officials said they had no evidence of violations that would cast doubt over the result.

"This is a secret service KGB operation to transfer power from one person to another," ex-premier Mikhail Kasyanov, who was disqualified from the ballot, told Reuters. "It has nothing to do with elections".

Medvedev's victory has been seen as a foregone conclusion since the popular Putin -- credited at home with restoring Russia's might on the world stage and stamping out the chaos of the 1990s -- endorsed him for the Kremlin top job last year.

Investors are watching closely to see who will be in Medvedev's government, with the focus on whether Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, seen as the architect of financial stability, will keep his job.

Russian gas giant Gazprom, of which Medvedev is chairman, was preparing to reduce supplies to pro-Western neighbor Ukraine over a debt dispute at 0700 GMT on Monday, in what some observers see as a show of strength.

Some observers believe the choice of Medevedev could be part of a plan by Putin for a shift in emphasis after 8 years in which the Kremlin has single-mindedly consolidated its power over the media, politics and strategic sectors of the economy.

Medvedev has emphasized the importance of using Russia's oil wealth to improve peoples' living standards, and said he wants to loosen the state's control over big corporations.

(Additional reporting by Chris Baldwin, Tanya Mosolova, Gleb Bryanski and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Hat tip to Helena Handbasket

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