Putin Praises Voters, Himself

APCommunist Party activists on Monday protesting Sunday's election results under a sign reading "Give us a recount!"
President Vladimir Putin thanked voters Monday for supporting the United Russia party in Sunday's State Duma election, while stressing his own central role in the victory.

After garnering 64.1 percent of the votes, the party was set to get up to 315 of the 450 seats in the next Duma, according to preliminary results released by the Central Elections Commission on Monday.

Putin told workers at an aviation plant in the Moscow region town of Khimki that the win came "not only in appreciation of what has been done but, most of all, as a result of voters' expectations that United Russia will continue to solve social problems."

He was frank in his description of his own role. "I headed this party's ticket, and [the result] was definitely a demonstration of [the voters'] trust," Putin added.

The president also said the Duma would start its work earlier than the one month following elections stipulated by law.

Once back in the Duma, the seat count near 315 will give the party a constitutional majority, meaning that it would have the two-thirds majority necessary in the parliament to pass constitutional amendments on its own. At 302 seats, the party was just over the two-thirds threshold in the last Duma.

With 98 percent of the ballots counted by Monday evening, the Communists, with 11.6 percent of the vote, were on track for 57 seats Duma, the Liberal Democratic Party's 8.2 percent was likely to translate into 40 seats, while A Just Russia, with 7.8 percent of the vote, will probably get 38.

Central Elections Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov said Monday that the official results would be announced by the end of the week.

None of the other seven parties that took part in the elections came near the 7 percent threshold, or even managed to reach the 3 percent of the vote necessary for the return of their 60 million ruble, or $2.4 million, election deposits.

Union of Right Forces campaign chief Anton Bakov told Interfax on Monday that his party, which attracted the support of 1.1 percent of voters, would have "to beg on church porches" to pay for televised campaign ads.

United Russia's leader, Boris Gryzlov, said Monday that the victory belonged to Putin, who, despite not being a party member, topped the party's federal list in the run-up to the vote.

"These elections were, in reality, a referendum in support of Vladimir Putin," Gryzlov told a news conference Monday. "Judging by the results, we can say the president won in the first round."

While leaders of the LDPR and A Just Russia were content with the results Monday, the Communists were crying foul over alleged election violations.

"The nation has never seen such dirty and unlawful elections: Whole new areas of total election fraud appeared in Russia," said a statement signed by the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and circulated Monday by the party.

The statement listed the North Caucasus and Volga regions as the origin of most complaints from the party's election observers.

The party leadership planned to convene on Thursday to plan a course of action. First deputy party leader Ivan Melnikov said the party might refuse to take its place in the legislature, which he said could force the cancellation of the election result and the holding of a new vote.

"Our legal experts are studying the matter now, and, if it is true, we will take this option without hesitation," party spokesman Pavel Shcherbakov said.

According to the party's own estimates, various violations cost them 10 percent of the vote, he added.

"It is bitter: We don't feel defeated, we feel robbed," Shcherbakov said.

During the 2003 elections to the Duma, the Communists won 12.6 percent of the vote.

Central Elections Commission member Nikolai Konkin said the Communists had yet to file an official complaint as of Monday afternoon.

Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank, said the Communists were unlikely to pull out of the legislature.

"The Communists' political influence comes from their Duma faction, not from street protests or their organizational network on the ground," Korgunyuk said. "They will not put their main operational asset at risk."

Opposition parties and groups -- ranging from street protesters from The Other Russia opposition movement to more restrained liberals from Yabloko -- also decried Sunday's vote for its lack of openness and fairness.

"It is a special kind of violence against the nation. Victory is when you have fair competition," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said Monday. "I am very sorry for my country, very sorry."

Churov denied on Monday that there were any violations serious enough to cast doubt on the outcome of the vote.

He also told journalists Monday that he would not be shaving off his Santa-esque beard, something that he had promised to do if the Duma vote turned out to be unfair.

Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-security services officer wanted in Britain in connection with the poisoning of another ex-security services officer, Alexander Litvinenko, was already making plans Monday. After running on the LDPR's federal ticket, Lugovoi told Ekho Moskvy radio that he was angling for membership on the Duma's Security Committee or Defense Committee.

Staff Writer John Wendle contributed to this report.