MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin won a resounding first-round victory in Russia’s presidential election on Sunday, taking 63.1 percent of the vote with 24.2 percent of returns counted, the Central Election Commission said.
Following are comments by analysts, economists and investors on the election outcome:
“The result is bang in line with the polls ... I would not be surprised if there is a bit of a market rally on Monday but that will soon abate if there are either big protests or credible evidence of irregularities.
“Obviously if there is violence the markets will react badly, but even if there are peaceful protests they are always portrayed internationally as being not so. But the markets are beginning to realize that if we have protests, and the government reacts in a way that encourages liberalization, it will be good for business and good for Russia.
“The next big thing will be the question of who forms the new government and who the prime minister is. Putin has said he wants a younger, more dynamic cabinet, so hopefully a lot more of Russia’s top people will go into politics.
“(Mikhail) Prokhorov’s candidacy has not unfairly been treated as a stunt, but he is a serious guy and could get more involved in politics. Someone of his wealth, his caliber, is not going to be someone’s puppet for long.”
“It is consistent with opinion polls and that is what investors were most concerned about. We could see a small relief bounce in the morning from investors who were holding back just in case, but I think it has been priced into the market rally in the last few weeks so I wouldn’t expect too much of a market reaction tomorrow.
“Over the medium term, it will be about who is going to be in the next government and who will occupy the key positions, and then what mechanisms the government will use to deliver on the promises that Putin has been making fairly liberally on the campaign trail.
“It is a game changer, no question about it. We are clearly at a point of transition. There is no going back to the old style of government that Putin oversaw. That simply is not possible for two reasons. The oil price advantage has been used ... and clearly people have now shown their voice. They are willing to protest. Putin has inherited a completely different set of circumstances than in his previous administration. He has to deliver.
“The question is whether or not he will be able to deliver. I think he will try and I think we will see a much more pragmatic and proactive Putin administration compared to the one we had before which was fairly complacent and reliant on oil.
“Russian equities are still likely to trade at about a 25 percent discount to global emerging market peers - Brazil, India, China - because of this continuing economic risk. It’s not that investors are cheering Putin’s return as an automatic solution.”
“This time around, the number of (electoral) violations is really huge. This means that some people in the government believe that Putin either could not win an honest election or that a second round would be too risky, which tells us something very surprising, that people within the government themselves are not sure he could win and that suggests that he is much less popular than thought. This is a very interesting signal.
“The amount of falsification shows that someone (in the government) had some information that he could lose in the second round. Now, we need to wait for the results from Moscow. If he receives fewer votes that United Russia did in the December parliamentary election that would mean that the December vote was falsified.
“If he receives more, then, there will be an outrage ... Today, we see so many policemen in the streets - this is a very bad signal (...) That means that they anticipate that people would be very unhappy about the results.
“There is still uncertainty whether he uses force or not.”
“The focus for markets tomorrow and the next couple of days will be the protests ... the extent and momentum of demonstrations will be watched very closely, as will what the reaction will be, especially if they are not sanctioned.
“If the protests are like the previous ones — a lot of people but peaceful — the focus will turn to policy. The market may interpret them (protests) as pressure on the new president to carry out some of their demands, such as fighting corruption and strengthening rule of law.
“The key is whether Putin manages to reinvent himself. There is a parallel to his first term in office, which was quite reformist. He carried out tax reform and later reformed the power sector. This is an opportunity to do something similar — cherry pick a couple of key reforms.
“I am sure there is a temptation to do nothing, with oil prices high and with 62 percent of the vote, but the protests are large enough that Putin and his team may feel the cost of doing nothing is too high.”
“The result very clearly reflects the rate of support for (Putin). It shows that the mandate for the next presidential term is rather strong - no other candidate has come close.
“For investors, no miracle has happened and the reaction should be rather positive than negative. There was no feeling that we were deceived while political stability remains in place. Financial markets should be satisfied.
“Putin is an experienced politician, and I think that the discontent that he saw, particularly on the streets after the parliamentary vote, will prompt him to adjust his agenda.
“From purely quantitative figures, such as doubling the GDP, we will switch to more qualitative indicators, because without an aggressive fight against corruption it will be impossible to make the middle class happy. And without it, it is very hard to imagine steady economic growth and political stability.”
“Putin is now at a very important crossroads: he is not going to keep his current support for long and he will have to make a choice. He’ll have to turn more to the left, become more populist, or turn more to the more educated electorate, associated with (President Dmitry) Medvedev.
“I believe he will turn more to the left, he will become more populist, attend more to his traditional zone of support: workers, pensioners.
“I don’t think the wave of protests will carry for too long - the difference in results cannot be explained by falsification.”
“It’s more or less what was expected. I think more important will be a couple of things. Firstly: the general public reaction. Are we going to see claims of vote-rigging and public demonstrations, like we saw after the parliamentary elections?
“Beyond that, I think the key question for Putin, and for the markets, is the shape of his new government. Russia faces huge challenges. It’s a watershed - Russia faces decline and stagnation unless they really kick-start reforms, and push forward an ambitious reform agenda.
“He needs a new, fresh cabinet. Markets will be disappointed if we see (President Dmitry) Medvedev return as prime minister. I think what we’ve learned from the parliamentary elections and the opposition is that people do want something different.
“We’ll be waiting to see the language coming out of Putin, and looking for reform.”
“(Putin) is getting a result that is broadly consistent with what the opinion polls were saying before the elections. So I would expect markets to react cautiously positively to that.
“However, we do know that there are going to be protests. I think you have to keep two important things in mind. Investors are assigning much less risk premium to Russia relative to the situation after parliamentary elections when there was a lot of fear among investors.
“There isn’t any viable competition to Putin. The second thing is that Putin will have to be in charge of country which, from a macroeconomic perspective, is structurally different from the kind of economy he presided over from 2000-2008. It was very easy during his first two terms. This time it will be much more difficult for him to deliver the economic goods.
“This means, in our view, that he will have an incentive to open up the economy, to make the economy more attractive, do something about corruption, do something about independence of the judiciary - the very things foreign investors are worried about. So in my view he will offer us a positive surprise, at least relative to expectations.”
“I don’t think the market was looking for a specific number ... The election is not an event for the markets any more. What they will look for is an outlook on the reform agenda, to liberalization measures.
“There will be a lot of interest in (reform of) tariffs in the utilities sector — that would be a pretty good signal the government is on a reform path.
“If there are protests, large-scale and sustained, the market will be concerned about populist measures — we don’t need them at this stage.
“It is critical to underscore the high level of break even for the oil price. If the oil price falls, there is very little room to maneuver. There is no time to waste.”
Reporting by John Bowker, Jason Bush, Lidia Kelly, Megan Davies and Andrey Ostroukh, Compiled by Douglas Busvine