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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 March, 2004, 22:25 GMT
Chronicle of a victory foretold
By Stephen Dalziel
BBC Russian Affairs Analyst, in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin is a genuinely popular figure
The only details to be confirmed following the obvious re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russian President are the actual size of the turnout and Mr Putin's majority.

As news of the turnout came in during the day, it was clear that rumours about possible voter apathy were unfounded.

But the prediction that Mr Putin would receive a huge vote in his favour was accurate.

So what's next for Mr Putin?

Rarely can there have been a presidential election in a non-totalitarian country where the result was such a foregone conclusion before voters even went to the polls.

But it is only 14 years since Russia - then part of the Soviet Union - did away with a one-party system where a ballot paper had just one name on it. And old habits die hard.

Media bias

The recent Soviet past has definitely played a very significant role in the establishment of Mr Putin as an unrivalled leader.

And a look further back into Russian history, where this vast country was always ruled by a firm fist from the centre, helps to explain the attraction for the Russian people of the image of Mr Putin as a 21st-Century tsar.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky in jail
Mikhail Khodorkovsky watched the election from prison
The way in which the Russian media unashamedly gave Mr Putin more publicity than all of the other candidates put together undoubtedly raises serious questions about the reliability of the media.

But it is not the first time that the post-Soviet media has shown its political colours so vividly.

It began with Mr Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1996.

In the first half of the 1990s, the Russian media was experimental and exciting.

It tried hard to shake off its Soviet straitjacket.

But when the 1996 presidential election became a clear fight between Mr Yeltsin and the Communists, the media bent over backwards to support Mr Yeltsin.

It has never escaped from the taint of being biased. But it would be wrong to suggest that Mr Putin's victory is solely due to media bias.

The former KGB agent and judo black belt from St Petersburg is genuinely popular with the Russian people.

This popularity not only gives him a firm mandate to govern.

It also gives him a huge responsibility to modernise and reform a country where much of the bureaucracy and administration is stuck in the past.

Strong image

A crucial factor will be the ease or difficulty with which businesses can work.

Mr Putin made it clear shortly after becoming president four years ago that businessmen should stick to business, and not meddle in politics.

If anyone was in any doubt about this, the fact that Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, watched this election from a prison cell should be a lesson.

If Mr Putin's popularity with the masses is because he's shown himself to be strong - politically and physically - his support among Russia's movers and shakers is partly based on admiration; but largely based on fear of what he could take away from them.

By announcing a pro-reform, anti-bureaucracy government even before the election, Mr Putin is already trying to show that he wants the new Russia to be strong and more efficient.

But he also wants to leave no-one in any doubt who is in charge.

This election result will simply underline that.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Mr Putin did his best to look a little worried"



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