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The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that changes
The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that changes to Russia's electoral system, alongside other democratic reforms, are vital for the country's development.

His comments came after Kremlin-backed Dmitry Medvedev's landslide victory in presidential elections in Russia on Sunday. The polls were criticized by Western monitors and the domestic opposition as undemocratic. Riot police broke up an unsanctioned protest in central Moscow on Monday against the results of the polls, and arrested dozens of protesters.

In an article published in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily newspaper on Tuesday, Gorbachev said direct gubernatorial elections, abolished by President Vladimir Putin in 2005, should be reinstated, as should "mixed" elections to parliament, during which half of the State Duma's members were elected in single-member constituencies and the other half by "party list" voting.

"The outcome of [Sunday's] election was predetermined by the popularity of Vladimir Putin, who backed Dmitry Medvedev and agreed to be premier if he won the elections. A lot of people were critical about this situation," Gorbachev said.

Europe's main election watchdog, the OSCE, boycotted the polls over restrictions it said were imposed by Russia. The head of the PACE monitoring group said Sunday's vote was a "reflection of the will of the electorate, whose democratic potential unfortunately has not been tapped."

Andreas Gross said unfair access to media put into question the overall fairness of the vote, adding the election "repeats most of the flaws seen in the parliamentary elections last December."

Echoing the comments, Gorbachev said voters had had no chance to compare candidates' programs due to unequal media access and coverage. Critics also accused the Kremlin of using administrative resources to promote Medvedev, a 42-year-old St. Petersburg lawyer and Putin's longtime ally, while barring opposition candidates from the race.

Gorbachev agreed that the choice of contenders - which included the Communist Party leader, a clownish, ultranationalist politician, and the little known leader of a tiny Democratic Party - left much to be desired. Gorbachev said "people went to polls because they trusted Putin."

Gorbachev, who presided over the start of perestroika and glasnost in the former Soviet Union, hailed Medvedev and Putin's focus on innovation, high technology and manufacturing as economic development priorities, but said those goals were easier to achieve in a democratic society.

The Medvedev-Putin 'tandem,' he said, should drop the 'power vertical,' Putin's term for his policy of consolidating power in the Kremlin, as it could prove harmful for the country's further growth.

"Strong power alone is ineffective, as popular support is also important," the last Soviet leader said. "Putin had sensed what the people wanted - revival, stability and statehood - and gave these things to them. Now more complex problems are in the offing, and a different level of feedback between state and society is needed."

Putin is credited in Russia for presiding over Russia's rebirth, dragging the country out of the economic decline of the 1990s and reinstating it as a global power. Putin looks set to retain much of his power when he becomes premier after he steps down as president at the start of May. However, analysts warn that the country faces tough challenges to maintain economic growth, including a desperate need to lessen dependence on its raw materials.

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