- - Sunday, March 4, 2012

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared victory in Sunday’s presidential election, which was marred by complaints of election violations and voter fraud.

Mr. Putin said the election was “open and honest” as he addressed thousands of supporters outside the Kremlin.

“We have won in an open and honest battle,” he said in tearful remarks, with outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev standing next to him. “I promised you we would win. We won. Glory to Russia.”

Mr. Putin held the presidency for two four-year terms from 2000 to 2008, but stepped down to become prime minister because the Russian Constitution prohibited him from seeking a third consecutive term. His new term will be for six years because of a change in the election law.

Exit polls showed Mr. Putin leading with 58.3 percent of the vote, well beyond the 50 percent benchmark needed to avoid a second round of voting, Russia’s state-run pollster VTsIOM reported.

Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov followed with 17.7 percent, and the other three candidates — Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and A-Just-Russia candidate Sergei Mironov — each won less than 10 percent of the vote.

Independent election watchdog Golos said it received more than 4,000 reports of election violations by late Sunday afternoon, including so-called carousel voting, where groups of voters were bused between polling stations to cast multiple ballots.

Elena Zalim, an election monitor at one central Moscow polling station, said voting was cleaner than the 2008 presidential election when she volunteered at the same precinct. She said, however, that she witnessed some signs of fraud.

“Around 10 percent of the voters here are on so-called ‘additional voting lists,’ which allow people to vote here, even if they aren’t registered in this region,” Ms. Zalim said. “I think these people are being allowed to vote in more than one place.”

Sunday’s polls were the most closely monitored of any election in modern-day Russia, a result of mass violations uncovered during parliamentary elections in December that sparked widespread street protests.

Polling stations across the country were staffed with about 28,000 independent monitors, and Web cameras were installed in most precincts, allowing Internet users to watch the voting live.

Election officials denied any violations, and the credibility of complaints is unclear, but the large number of allegations could fuel the anti-government movement that authorities hoped would subside after the vote.

Since December’s elections, Russia has experienced some of the largest protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, with up to 100,000 people gathering in three separate protests.

The latest opinion polls published before Sunday’s vote suggested that Mr. Putin had more than enough support to win the election in the first round.

His reputation for bringing stability and prosperity to Russia after the turbulent 1990s, and the lack of any strong alternative candidate, appears sufficient to keep his popularity levels high — though not as high as the 70 percent of the vote he garnered in the 2004 presidential election.

“I want Putin to be in power for the next six years. It is more comfortable that way. I don’t want to see any sudden changes in this country,” Boris Zhmikhov, 60, said outside a polling station in a residential district just north of downtown Moscow.

Legislation enacted since the 2004 election extends the presidential term to six years instead of four. That means Mr. Putin could serve for another 12 years if he is officially declared the victor and wins again in six years.

However, the success of a new Putin term likely will depend on how he handles the simmering unrest, which for now is mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The fragmented opposition has gained permission to hold a 10,000-strong rally Monday on central Moscow’s Pushkin Square and is using alleged electoral violations to motivate more people to take to the streets.

“Everyone should go out on the streets wherever they want,” anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny told reporters.

“We have a right to assemble, and it’s a citizen’s duty to come out and say that we’re not happy with what’s happened.”

Recent opposition protests have passed peacefully and without arrests, but many observers fear a clampdown under a new Putin presidency.

Local media reported that the government deployed 36,000 police and army officers into the capital over the weekend. Truckloads of riot police trundled past the Kremlin on Sunday afternoon, apparently in anticipation of postelection unrest.

“People will only really believe that the election was honest if it goes to a second round of voting,” Elena Tikhinova, a member of the League of Voters volunteer observer group, told The Washington Times.

“If not, I think people will be very angry.”

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