MOSCOW, March 3 (RIA Novosti) - European observers said on Monday that Russia's presidential elections reflected the will of voters, but questioned the fairness of the polls.
Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev, 42, won Russia's presidential election by a landslide, preliminary results from the Central Election Commission showed on Monday. With 99% of the ballots counted Medvedev received 70.22% of the votes in Sunday's elections with a record turnout of 69.6% of the country's 109 million eligible voters.
Andreas Gross, head of the group from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said Sunday's vote was a "reflection of the will of the electorate whose democratic potential unfortunately has not been tapped."
He said unfair access to media put into question the overall fairness of the vote, adding the election "repeats most of the flaws seen in the parliamentary elections last December."
Gross said previously voters had a limited choice and pointed to the "insurmountable" difficulties one candidate faced in registering to run in Sunday's contest."
"An election where there is not a level playing field for all contestants can hardly be considered as fair," the PACE team stated before the campaign.
The head of the Central Election Commission said all comments by international observers would be taken into account.
However, he said the commission would hardly be able "to follow all of the contradictory recommendations" made by observers.
European NGO observers said they had no problems with the election and that the vote conformed to Western standards.
"The vote took place in a wonderful environment and met Western norms," said Bernard Perego [name as transliterated].
He said he had visited four polling stations in Russia and had witnessed no violations.
Another European NGO observer praised the election for being well-organized.
"What we saw was well organized; the turnout was high, and people were voting with pleasure," said Paul Marie Couteaux.
The CIS observer mission said the election was free and democratic.
"The CIS observer mission states that the election is a major factor in the further democratization of public life in the Russian Federation, and recognizes it as free, open and transparent," said Nauryz Aidarov, head of the CIS mission.
Medvedev's nearest rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, has 17.77% of the vote, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky 9.37%, and the leader of the pro-Western Democratic Party, Andrei Bogdanov, - 1.29%.
The overwhelming lead is enough to give Medvedev victory in the first round of voting.
Election officials said that the polls had taken place without serious violations. However, critics pointed to pressure on voters to cast their ballots, especially employees at state-run organizations.
The refusal by the Russian election authorities to register a number of candidates from Russia's opposition due to 'irregularities' in their applications was also cited, as was the lack of media coverage for candidates given permission to stand.
As results came in, Medvedev's main contenders, Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, hinted that they could contest the election results in the courts.
Many Western observers, including the OSCE's main election arm, chose to boycott the election claiming Russia had imposed restrictions on monitors. However, Moscow has strongly rejected the allegations.
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