March 6, 2012 / 7:21 PM / in 6 years

Gorbachev says Russia should discuss fresh election

* Ex-Soviet leader says Putin must listen to the people

* Gorbachev calls for presidential term limits

* Gorbachev criticises presidential election

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW, March 6 (Reuters) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Tuesday he was troubled by a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin claimed victory and called for a discussion of whether to hold a new election.

Prime Minister Putin says he won the election fairly but international monitors said the vote was skewed in his favour. Putin’s opponents accept that he won the most votes but say the official election results exaggerate his popularity.

Gorbachev, reviled by millions of Russians for unleashing the reforms that helped sink the Soviet Union, said it was clear there were problems during both the Dec. 4 parliamentary election and the March 4 presidential election.

“It is clear there was something up with these elections,” Gorbachev, 81, told Ekho Moskvy radio station, though he refused to cite specific worries, saying he had been preoccupied with unidentified medical issues.

The father of “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness) called for reform of Russia’s electoral system including a discussion of whether to hold “extraordinary elections”.

Official results show Putin won 63.6 percent of the presidential vote, or 45.5 million votes, more than three times his closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who won 17.2 percent of the vote, or 12.3 million votes.

Gorbachev expressed distaste at what he said were insulting attempts by Putin to cast some Russian citizens as enemies because they opposed his rule.

Facing mass protests in December, Putin initially dismissed demonstrators as the paid agents of foreign powers and used references to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book to suggest opponents were chattering monkeys.

“I was surprised when he said it the first time - when citizens became enemies,” said Gorbachev. “It was so insulting, so lacking in respect that he should apologise.”

Gorbachev, who is feted in the West for ignoring hardliners who advised him to crush growing dissent in the eastern bloc which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, said that Putin should listen to the people and address concerns over the elections.

“The time has come to listen,” he said.

Putin’s supporters dismiss Gorbachev as a failure who sank the Soviet empire, capitulated to the West and unleashed years of chaos which was only tamed when Putin rose to power in 1999.

Gorbachev, who ruled from 1985 until 1991, said that there should be a limit of two presidential terms per person, a rule that would have prevented Putin running for president in the March 2012 election.

“Two terms, no matter whether four or five or six years, it differs, but no more,” said Gorbachev. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge)

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