International observers blasted Russia's presidential election Monday, saying: "The point of an election is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looked set to win Sunday's vote and return to the office he held until he was forced out by term limits four years ago.
But European monitors expressed disappointment and frustration with the way he won.
They said they observed ballot stuffing and other irregularities in about a third of polling stations they monitored, and an uneven playing field in the run-up to the election.
Sounding somewhat exasperated, the Council of Europe's Tiny Kox urged Russia "to have a fair election," saying "it's not that difficult."
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was particularly critical of irregularities in vote counting because "what matters in an election is the counting," she said.
She declined to say whether the irregularities affected the outcome of the vote -- a landslide for Putin by international standards, if not Russian ones.
And she praised incremental improvements such as web cameras in polling stations and transparent ballot boxes, as well as the "massive mobilization of civil society demanding fair elections."
Putin called for unity Sunday night as he appeared headed for a third term as president, declaring he had won an "open and honest fight."
But chess champion-turned opposition activist Garry Kasparov accused Putin's supporters of "massive fraud," saying early Monday they packed the polls with additional voters.
With better than two-thirds of the vote reporting early Monday, Putin led his closest rival by a nearly 4-to-1 ratio. His margin of victory was smaller than in 2004, the last time he ran for president, but appears well above the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.))))