Behind the pomp and ceremony of Dmitri Medvedev's Kremlin inauguration, some Russians say there remain nagging questions about the legitimacy of the process that made him president.
Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) reported that 69.7 percent of Russian voters turned out for the March 2 presidential elections, and Mr. Medvedev won overwhelmingly over his three rivals with 70.3 percent of the votes.
But a recent study of the official results by mathematician Sergei Shpilkin, a popular blogger, found statistical anomalies that bolster critics' claims that the elections were unfair. His analysis suggests that up to a third of the votes may have been rigged as part of an attempt to inflate Medvedev's margin of victory.
"It's a combination of fraud and administrative resources [official intervention] and it is difficult to distinguish between them," Mr. Shpilkin told a press conference at the Carnegie Center in Moscow last month. "One vote in three cannot be explained" by normal statistical models, he added.
Shpilkin found that an extremely improbable number of Russian polling stations reported turnout and voting results that ended in a round number, either a five or a zero.
"Figures ending in fives and zeros are best for falsification," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the independent Panorama think tank in Moscow. "It's a sign that votes have been stolen, then folded into round numbers."
Shpilkin also noted that Medvedev's support as reported by the CEC follows a normal pattern, which can be represented as a bell curve, only until it reaches 60 percent. Instead of sloping downward, as expected, the curve then becomes a series of statistically unlikely spikes.
Similarly, the CEC figures for turnout represent a curve until they reach 56 percent – not the officially reported 69.7 percent – and then again the line turns into spikes. In addition, the number of polling stations reporting 100 percent turnout is more than double the number of stations reporting any other figure.
If generally accepted statistical rules are applied, Shpilkin said, it is likely that actual turnout was only 56 percent, and almost 15 million of the 52.5 million votes cast for Medvedev were fraudulent. Shpilkin's findings were posted in March on his Russian-language blog, http://podmoskovnik.livejournal.com. He declined to be interviewed by the Monitor.
Shpilkin's theory might have remained an Internet curiosity if it hadn't rung a bell with some Russian election monitors, who say it provides a mathematical explanation for their own observations.
"We've been holding public hearings about the election results, collecting a lot of documentation and witness reports, and it's clear to us that there were massive violations," says Liliya Shabanova, executive director of Golos, an independent election watchdog. "We analyzed the material from a different angle than Shpilkin [did], but we came to the same conclusions."
But beyond the statistical questions surrounding the election day itself, most critics have pointed to the election campaign as the most unfair aspect of Medvedev's massive win.
Several anti-Kremlin candidates were eliminated from the ballot on a variety of technicalities, the state-run media gave Medvedev blanket coverage while largely ignoring his three rivals, and there were widespread reports of voter coercion by officials.
"There was no equal rights for candidates, nor real competition, nor equal access to the mass media," says Andrei Buzin, chairman of the Inter-regional Association of Voters, a grass-roots group. "It was not free or fair in any sense."
Most Western observers boycotted the elections due to what they saw as excessive Russian restrictions on their activity. A delegation sent by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded that Russia's "democratic potential was, unfortunately, not tapped," even though a majority would probably have voted for Medvedev in a fair and open contest.
Shpilkin found similar irregularities in a study of voting patterns in December's parliamentary elections, including improbable claims of up to 99 percent voter turnout in some southern regions.
"[Shpilkin's report] shows that there were direct falsifications at the federal level," says Mr. Buzin. "This can be viewed as the final stage of the degradation of elections in Russia."