Grozny, 6 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Kremlin-backed candidate Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (pictured) appears on his way to an overwhelming victory in Chechnya's controversial presidential election. Electoral officials said preliminary tallies of about half the votes cast show Kadyrov, the current pro-Russian Chechen administration chief, winning up to 85 percent in yesterday's election.
In comments early today, Kadyrov was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying Chechnya needs no special political status within Russia but should have broad economic rights. He listed his governing priorities as working to ensure the safety of citizens, reviving the economy, and eliminating what he called "terrorists and Wahhabis."
Kadyrov said after voting yesterday in Grozny: "What I expect from this election is that the people will find unity and peace. There will be no second round."
Abdul Karim Arsakhanov, the chairman of Chechnya's election commission, said: "We have to collect all the ballots to confirm the results. But, I am absolutely confident that the results will not change. He [Kadyrov] will get more than 80 percent and none of the other candidates has any chance to even get close to that."
Voter turnout was reported to be 86 percent of the more than 561,000 eligible voters. Official results are expected later today.
The Russian government has promoted the election as an important step toward a peaceful settlement to the conflict between Russian troops and Chechen separatist rebels.
But critics have condemned the vote as a farce, noting that all of Kadyrov's major rivals were disqualified or withdrew from the race before the poll. Human rights groups and international organizations said the poor security situation in Chechnya was not appropriate for the holding of an election, and international observers from many organizations were not present to monitor the election.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Kremlin-backed candidate Valentina Matvienko has been elected the governor of Russia's second city of St. Petersburg in a poll marked by low voter participation.
With nearly all ballots counted from yesterday's second-round contest, electoral officials said Matvienko, whose candidacy was personally endorsed by President Vladimir Putin, had won 63 percent.
Her rival, former Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova, was trailing with 24 percent.
Officials said the voter turnout was just 28 percent.
Matvienko, the presidential representative to northwestern Russia, had fallen less than two percentage points short of winning in the first-round vote last month.