President Vladimir Putin has claimed that last month’s presidential election was "probably the most transparent and cleanest" in Russian history, accepting a certificate identifying him as the president-elect after a vote that opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said gave voters no real choice.
Putin made the remarks on April 3 at a meeting with Central Election Commission (CEC) chief Ella Pamfilova, who congratulated him on what she called his "convincing and clean victory" in the March 18 election.
According to the official result from the CEC, Putin won just under 76.7 percent of the votes cast -- more than he received in any of his three previous elections and the highest percentage handed to any post-Soviet Russian leader. Turnout exceeded 67 percent, according to the CEC.
"As many have already said, this was probably the most transparent and cleanest election in the history of our country," said Putin, who in turn congratulated Pamfilova and said that she and her colleagues had helped ensure a clean a election.
Pamfilova said after the election that were "at least two times fewer" violations than in the 2012 presidential vote, which put Putin back in the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.
But there were several thousand allegations of fraud on election day, in some cases backed by webcam footage appearing to show blatant ballot-box stuffing, and voters in various regions said they had been pressured by their employers or teachers to vote.
According to an analysis by Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist who has studied Russian election statistics, Putin may have received more than 10 million falsified votes nationwide.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which had more than 500 observers in Russia for the vote, said that, while legal and technical aspects of the election were well administered, "the extensive coverage in most media of the incumbent as president resulted in an uneven playing field."
"Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice," Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the OSCE's short-term observer mission, told reporters in Moscow on March 19.
He added that "where the legal framework restricts many fundamental freedoms and the outcome is not in doubt, elections almost lose their purpose -- empowering people to choose their leaders."
Putin, who has been prime minister or president since 1999, is to be inaugurated in May for a new six-year term, which could be his last because of a constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms.
Political analysts said that, during the election, the Russian authorities were under pressure from the Kremlin to bolster Putin's mandate and lend legitimacy to the vote by ensuring a high turnout and relatively low levels of fraud.