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Putin receives 52.5 percent of the vote, is declared winner of Russian presidential election
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Vladimir Putin, Russia's acting president since New Year's Day, is now Russia's elected president.
With 94.27 percent of the vote counted, the nation's Central Election Commission gave Putin 52.52 percent of the vote -- above the absolute majority he needed to avoid a runoff election.
The election was not the easy victory that many had predicted for the former KGB intelligence officer. Early results from Russia's Far East had given Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov around 30 percent of the vote. At the time, Putin received only about 45 percent of the ballots -- and it appeared Russia's voters would be heading to a second-round election in April.
But later in the day, as the ballot count moved west toward Russia's major cities -- including Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg -- the acting president's numbers began to rise steadily. Returns from Moscow, in one of the last of Russia's 11 time zones to report results, moved Putin's numbers firmly into an absolute majority.
Chechen results delayed
Vote results in the Russian republic of Chechnya were being delayed until daylight on Monday, reportedly as a security precaution. More than 90,000 Russia soldiers in the region are fighting anti-government rebels there.
But one of Putin's rivals questioned the political situation in Chechnya.
"We consider the election in Chechnya to be a complete farce," Zyuganov said. "There are no conditions for a normal honest election there."
Zyuganov had 29.44 percent of the vote. Liberal reformer Grigory Yavlinsky placed third, with 5.85 percent. Regional governor Aman Tuleyev was fourth. Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- the ultra-nationalist who ran in the 1991 and 1996 presidential elections -- was in 5th with 2.72 percent of the vote.
The Interfax news agency reported the overall voter turnout at 65.8 percent, well above the 50 percent needed to validate the election. That turnout was considered normal for a Russian election.
"I will have to go to work "
Putin spent the hours leading up to the election skiing and taking a traditional Russian steam bath. He arrived at his Moscow campaign headquarters around midnight and later looked confident as he voted at a local polling station.
"Tomorrow is Monday, a hard day, and I will have to go to work," he said.
Two exit polls, broadcast on RTR state television, placed Putin near or above the 50 percent he needed to avoid a second electoral round. RTR later came under criticism by Russian election officials for broadcasting its polls before the voting had ended.
A Russian 'enigma'
Very little was known both inside and outside of Russia about Putin until late last year.
A former KGB official who had worked in East Germany and started his political career in the early 1990s, Putin had never held an elected office. Soon after his appointment to prime minister in August of 1999 by then-president Boris Yeltsin, Putin launched an offensive against separatist guerrillas in Chechnya.
Putin's active image and calls to restore Russia to its former status as a world power struck an immediate chord with many Russians. His popularity rose steadily as prime minister. It continued to climb after Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned on New Year's Eve and named Putin acting president.
In the campaigning leading up to the elections, some Russians expressed concerns that Putin would lead the country back to Soviet-style, authoritarian rule. Those concerns have been echoed beyond Russia's borders.
But "it's a mistake to prejudge him [Putin]," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on CNN's "Late Edition Sunday". "His words are OK, but we have to watch his actions."
"He's an enigma," said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. "He seems to be moving forward ... opening up and some reforms, and yet there is a throwback quality that's got to worry us."
Don't expect miracles
Even before his victory was announced, Putin warned his supporters against immediate results.
"There are many people in the country who are not satisfied with the state of things," he said. "People are tired, things are tough for them, and they expect better things from me. But, of course, miracles don't occur."
Voting begins in Russian presidential election
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