Moscow– Vladimir Putin was swept back into the Kremlin on Sunday for a third term as president in elections that observers in Russia say were marred by serious fraud.
With a fifth of ballots across the vast country counted by late Sunday night, Putin, who has served as prime minister for four years while his protege, Dmitri Medvedev, kept the main seat warm for him, had taken 63% of votes cast, according to the central election commission.
The results throw into doubt plans announced Thursday by Medvedev for a new, independent public television channel free of advertising.
Commentators say the plans have been seen as a sop to the opposition and that, with Medvedev’s political future now in doubt, they are likely to be ditched by Putin.
The election result was hailed by Putin’s chief of staff, Stanislav Govorukhin, a Soviet-era film director turned politician, as “the cleanest in the history of Russia” and one that reflected the “love and respect” of Russians for Putin.
Tens of thousands of his supporters were bussed into Moscow’s Red Square late Sunday for a meticulously planned election victory celebration. Many were from pro-Putin youth group Nashi or workers promised extra pay and a day off, local media reported.
Television images showed Putin, Medvedev at his side, apparently shedding a tear before making an emotional speech denouncing recent mass opposition demonstrations as “political provocations.”
The tearful performance prompted puns across the Internet alluding to a 1979 Soviet-era Oscar-winning film by Govorukhin’s contemporary Vladimir Menshov, “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.”