Vote "neither free nor fair," Western vote monitor says

( dpa ) - Dmitry Medvedev's landslide win to succeed Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin was "neither free nor fair," the chief of the sole Western election observer mission said Monday.

The election amounted to a "plebiscite" or "a vote of confidence in the incumbent president," Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) mission told journalists Monday.

"We said three weeks ago that the vote was neither free nor fair, and none of our concerns have been met," Gross said.

Russia's 96,000 polling stations were attended by a meager 300 vote observers after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) boycotted the election, citing pre-election restrictions.

Vote monitors bemoaned the unequality of candidate registration and an abuse of administrative resources by first deputy prime minister Medvedev allowing him blanket television coverage during and leading into the campaign.

"For an election to be good it takes a good process, not just a good election day," Gross stressed, saying that the voting itself was unproblematic.

He estimated that the results of the elections would have been similar had pre-election objections been addressed.

Sunday's vote was seen by critics as Kremlin orchestrated to produce Putin's successor and open a path for Putin to take up a new powerful post.

Medvedev will be inaugurated May 7 and is expect to appoint Putin prime minister two weeks later.

But "to reduce the whole election to a spin by the forces working in the Kremlin, would be too simple," Gross moderated.

"The president elect will have a solid mandate given him by the majority of Russians," PACE said in a statement Monday.

With more than 95 per cent of the votes counted, Medvedev had 70.1 per cent of the vote.

His challengers had little less than 30 per cent of the vote between them.

Veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov earned 17.84 per cent, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 9.43 per cent, while the little-known Andrei Bogdanov won 1.28 per cent - though all are considered Kremlin-friendly candidates.

The only liberal opponent, former prime minister turned Kremlin critic Mikhail Kasyanov had his registration thrown out by the Central Election Commission in December.

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