Putin pledges reform in second term

President Vladimir Putin, re-elected by a resounding margin on Monday, has pledged to drive Russia's economy forward, improve the lives of impoverished citizens and increase democratic freedoms.

    Critics say Putin is undemocratic

    Speaking after partial results showed him far out in front

    of a field of six with more than 70% of the vote in Sunday's

    presidential election, Putin pledged tangible gains for voters

    during his second term.

    He

    went out of his way to answer charges made

    that his four years in power had created an electoral

    system biased in his favour, and had hobbled press freedom.

    "I promise you that all democratic gains of our people will

    without any doubt be upheld and guaranteed. And we shall not

    stop with what has been achieved. We shall strengthen the

    multi-party system," Putin told reporters.

    He added: "We shall strengthen civil society and do everything to

    uphold media freedom.

    "We shall do everything we can to ensure stable growth of

    our country's economy, stability in both the economy and the

    social sphere ... which we value."

    Modernisation

    Putin said his key policy aim was to modernise a country in which a

    quarter of the 145 million residents live below the poverty line.

    "This has to be done carefully so as not to damage or

    undermine people's confidence in what we are doing," he said.

    The president's victory, with Communist Nikolai Kharitonov a distant

    second on 14.3%, was never in doubt.

    Finishing further back in the field were nationalist Sergei Glazyev on 4.2% and liberal Irina Khakamada, a strident Putin critic, on 3.8%.

    The field

    1. Vladimir Putin(independent) 70.9%

    2. Nikolai Kharitonov (Communist Party) 14.0%

    3. Sergei Glazyev (independent) 4.1%

    4. Irina Khakamada (independent) 3.8%

    5. Oleg Malyshkin (Liberal Democratic Party) 2.1%

    6. Sergei Mironov (independent) 0.8%

    But liberals alleged

    he monopolised state-run television and limited media freedom.

    Both US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National

    Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested in interviews

    Putin's rivals had been denied fair media access.

    Putin brushed aside the criticism as "dictated by the

    domestic political balance" in a US election year.

    Reform pledges

    However, he

    pledged if comments warranted reflection "we won't only take

    note of it, but will also draw the appropriate conclusions".

    Much of the support for Putin among apathetic voters was

    rooted in the stability he introduced after a decade of turmoil

    under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, and a measure of increased

    prosperity, mainly in major cities.

    Nevertheless, Putin acknowledged there had been no big improvement in

    living standards.

    "What has been done recently is not

    well-being," he said. "It isn't improving well-being. It is

    rather the dawn of well-being."

    Worries that Putin's victory could be spoiled by a failure

    to reach the required 50% turnout figure proved

    unfounded with more than

    60% casting ballots.

    He has few domestic obstacles after a December election

    returned a parliament dominated by allies. A new government is

    stacked with technocrats certain to do his bidding.

    Some analysts questioned whether Putin, however broad his

    powers, can follow through on reform pledges.

    Another key question is how Putin deals with the post-Soviet

    super-rich after the jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail

    Khodorkovsky pending trial on tax evasion and fraud charges.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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