December 3, 2007 / 6:45 PM / 11 years ago

Big Putin vote in Chechnya has locals puzzled

GROZNY, Russia, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Russia’s volatile Chechnya, once President Vladimir Putin’s biggest headache, ironically turned out to be a big success story for him in Sunday’s election, according to official figures.

But the Central Election Commission’s figures, showing that Chechens voted in droves for the Kremlin chief’s party United Russia, had some locals scratching their heads.

The figures indicated that 99.2 percent of voters in the war-ravaged region of southern Russia had taken part in the poll and 99.3 percent of them had voted for United Russia.

This was the highest vote for Putin anywhere in Russia, where overall turnout was 62 percent and just over 64 percent of votes were cast for United Russia.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist warlord turned Kremlin ally, was one of the few people not to be surprised by the result. He had publicly promised beforehand to deliver 100 percent of his republic’s vote for Putin.

"High voter turnout in the parliamentary elections shows great civic responsibility," Kadyrov said on Monday without a hint of irony.

"People understand that they have the right to choose."

But on the streets of the heavily scarred regional capital of Grozny, many residents said the results did not tally with their own experience.

"I did not vote. My friends did not vote," said one young man, Malik, who declined to give his family name.

"You can’t fool me. My people and I have been through a great tragedy and (Putin’s) party is to blame for it," he said.

Putin sent Russian soldiers into Chechnya in 1999 to resume a war against rebels which killed thousands, destroyed swathes of Grozny and forced even more to flee.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no reason to doubt the Chechen result.

Caucasus people had a "tradition of respect for power" he told a phone-in news conference and the result was a "reflection of this respect towards Putin, his party and local authorities". (Writing by James Kilner in Moscow; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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