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Putin wins. Will Russians buy in? (+video)

Questions of legitimacy are dogging Putin's overwhelming presidential win Sunday. Opposition leaders say they plan weeks of protest to force changes in Russia's 'managed' democracy.

By Correspondent / March 5, 2012

Former presidential candidates Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, center with back to camera, and lawmaker Sergei Mironov meet in Moscow on Monday, March 5.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/AP

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Moscow

 There seems no doubt that Vladimir Putin won Sunday's presidential elections, with a whopping 63.7 percent of the votes, according to the latest results from the official Central Electoral Commission.

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But the legitimacy of the strictly managed Russian system of elections, which more-or-less ordained Mr. Putin's victory, is now the central bone of contention. Opposition leaders in Moscow are gearing up for what they say could be weeks of protests aimed at forcing fundamental changes in the system, while incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev (remember him?) has stepped in to propose a series of reforms that could go at least part of the way toward meeting opposition demands.

Russian security forces locked down the city center Monday in anticipation of a wave of competing rallies for and against the election result.

Mr. Putin himself was jubilant Sunday night. Speaking to crowds of supporters near the Kremlin Sunday night, Putin said "We have won an open and honest fight....  We are appealing to all people to unite for our people, for our motherland, and we will win. We've had a victory! Glory to Russia!"

International observers, reporting Monday, said they'd found irregularities in about a third of the polling stations. But more significantly, they said, the entire process was skewed to ensure Putin's victory.

 "There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt," Tonino Picula, one of the monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said. "The point of elections is that they should be uncertain: this was not the case in Russia."

At least one case of outrageous vote-rigging, in the southern republic of Dagestan, was caught by the newly installed system of webcams and was later broadcast by the state-owned English language RT network. The results in that polling station have been officially annulled.

"It's obvious that there were a considerable number of violations, and for the most part the official election commission is not admitting them," says Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the independent Mercator think tank in Moscow. "For example, the electoral commission says there were no irregularities reported in Moscow, while we know that observers have documented hundreds of them.....  As professional analysts examine these results over the next few days, the impression of a legitimate victory for Putin will fade and doubts will strengthen. Putin will have to keep proving his victory, and this cloud of doubt will continue to hang over him."

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