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Russia’s Putin Coasts to Re-Election Victory

Putin won a second, four-year term with 71.2 percent of the vote, Russia’s Central Election Commission announced early Monday. His next closest challenger was Communist Nikolai Kharitonov, who got 13.7 percent of the vote, according to the Associated Press.

“I think I have worked hard all these years, and I worked honestly. People must have felt it,” Putin said at his Red Square election headquarters. He promised to work on reforms to raise living standards for Russians, a quarter of whom live in poverty.

“What we have done has not made Russians prosperous,” he told reporters, according to Reuters. “We haven’t brought prosperity. It is rather the dawn of prosperity.”

Putin is credited by many Russians for bringing stability to the country after the social and political upheavals brought by the collapse of the Soviet Union. He regularly wins approval ratings of 70 percent or more.

European election observers criticized the vote Monday, saying slanted coverage in the state-run media made for a one-sided campaign and there were 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, according to the AP.

But the Central Election Commission said the campaign passed without any significant breaches of election law.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on ABC TV that the United States “was concerned about a level of authoritarianism creeping back in the society.”

“We don’t hesitate to point out to President Putin that he should use the popularity that he has to broaden the political dialogue and not use his popularity to throttle political dialogue and openness in the society,” Powell said.

Putin responded by saying Russia will consider the criticism and “if we think there is something to think about, will draw the corresponding conclusions.” He also referred to the 2000 Florida election fiasco as showing weaknesses in the world’s oldest democracy: “We, nearly four years ago, saw in amazement how the American voting system suffered glitches.”

Putin reorganized nearly all of his government in the weeks leading up the election, nearly halving the number of Cabinet seats, although officials have said most ministries and agencies will continue under new names.

Putin’s new premier, Mikhail Fradkov, insisted today the reshuffle is aimed at creating a more efficient administration in order to make Russia more competitive on the global market.

Putin, a former KGB agent, was elected Russia’s president in March 2000. He succeeded Boris Yeltsin who pulled Putin out of relative government obscurity to become prime minister in 1999.

Putin has been praised for the economic stability in post-Soviet Russia, which teetered through an unpredictable period of economic uncertainty after the fall of communism in 1991.

Those years of instability — when few regulations were in place to monitor Russian business — led to the rise of a small class of elite wealthy, widely known as the oligarchs.

Putin’s administration has recently cracked down on the so-called oligarchs, including the well-publicized jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the giant Yukos oil company who was rumored to have political ambitions for the presidency.

He has also taken a tough line toward the ongoing war in the breakaway republic in Chechnya, although polls show that there is widespread unease in the public about his policy toward the region, according to the BBC.

Russia’s constitution bars presidents from serving more than two straight terms, and Putin has said he opposes amending it to extend his time in office. He announced last month that he plans to pick a preferred successor.

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