- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin yesterday promised Russians more of the stability and order that helped him win his landslide re-election. He also pledged to open up the political stage to divergent voices after a campaign criticized as unfair and one-sided.

Russia’s Central Election Commission officially declared Mr. Putin the winner early yesterday, saying he won a second four-year term with 71.2 percent of Sunday’s vote.

“I think I have worked hard all those years, and I worked honestly. People must have felt it,” Mr. Putin said, appearing before reporters at his Red Square election headquarters. He wore a black sweater under a black blazer. “I promise you that for the next four years, I will work in the same mode.”

The former KGB agent is credited by many Russians with bringing stability to this nation after the social and political upheavals brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has been helped by high world prices for oil — Russia’s main export commodity and the engine driving its economy.

Mr. Putin’s image as a disciplined, sober, hard-working official also appealed to Russians after his predecessor Boris Yeltsin’s health troubles and reported alcohol abuse.

European election observers criticized the vote, saying yesterday that slanted coverage in the state-run media made for a one-sided campaign and that monitors recorded significant flaws in the vote count.

The campaign and balloting “overall did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a positive democratic election process,” said Julian Peel Yates, head of a joint mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

During the campaign, opposition candidates complained that the state-controlled media’s lavish coverage of Mr. Putin gave them little opportunity to get their message to voters. They also charged that regional government officials, apparently eager to curry favor with the Kremlin, hampered their campaign appearances.

The Central Election Commission, however, said the campaign passed without any significant breaches of election law.

Mr. Putin’s closest challenger was Communist Nikolai Kharitonov, who had 13.7 percent of the vote, the commission said. Four other candidates shared the remaining votes.

President Bush spoke by telephone yesterday morning to Mr. Putin, telling him his second term is an opportunity to “deepen Russian’s commitment to reform — market-based reform and democratic reform,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

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