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Good Reads: Flawed elections in Congo, and voters protest Putin in Russia

Polling results will be announced today in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but 'massive' irregularities may undermine credibility; and Russian voters rebuke leader Vladimir Putin.

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“Fraud means that there is a desire to cheat,” said the vice president, Jacques Djoli Eseng’Ekeli. “What I think is going on are irregularities of organization and logistics. This election is no more than a reflection of the difficulties of the state.”

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On TV, Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege was among the first to point out the problem of ballot stuffing, and her colleague Azad Essa quoted a nightclub owner saying that “Kinshasa was not the place to be right now.”

But Essa also quoted an election observer from the National Democratic Institute, saying that violence is not inevitable.

“It is arrogant to assume that parties are not talking to each other," Anita Vandenveld, Country Director of National Democratic Institute (NDI), told Al Jazeera.

“No one I have spoken to, from any party has expressed any desire for violence, and the onset of violence would mean that talks have broken down,” she said.

In Russia, meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is recovering from a stinging rebuke to his ruling United Russia party, which held onto control of parliament with 50 percent of the vote, a drop from 64 percent in the previous elections.

Mr. Putin, who portrays himself in press photo opportunities as a man of the people and a man of action – practicing judo, scuba diving for artifacts, holding cute  puppies – received some unaccustomed booing during the election campaign, and election observers say that his 50 percent apparent victory came with some pretty heavy rigging and manipulation.

The Telegraph’s Andrew Osborn writes that this election is a personal setback for Putin.

For Mr Putin, the election was personal. It was the first chance that ordinary Russians had been given to express their opinion since he announced he planned to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev and contest a presidential election in March. Now 59 and continuously in power as either president or prime minister since 2000, Mr Putin is not used to public rebukes. On the contrary, he is accustomed to being lauded in the style of a latter day Kremlin prince. Slushy songs have been penned in his honour, a skimpily clad fan club called “the Army of Putin” has emerged, a best-selling vodka brand has been named after him, and it sometimes seems that not a day goes by without state TV showing a fawning report about Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin stripped to the waist fishing and hunting, a stoic Putin swimming in an icy river, or a sensitive Putin listening to impoverished pensioners.

But Mr. Putin can take heart. He still had the strong support – 93.14 percent -- of the vote at Preobrazhensky Psychiatric Hospital, writes Bloomberg news agency’s Mark Whitehouse, and 93.06 percent at the Moscow Region Clinical Psychiatric Hospital. Surely, that’s some measure of comfort.

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