A study carried out by a Russian physicist and computer programmer suggests that president-elect Dmitri Medvedev has won the polls by rigging the votes even as Russia's President Vladimir Putin's powers have been boosted by his decision to lead Russia's biggest political party, United Russia after stepping down as Kremlin leader next month.

The study conducted by Sergei Shpilkin, a physicist and computer programmer, concluded that 14.8 million of the 52.5 million votes cast for Medvedev were 'unclear'and might result in severely damaging Medvedev's ascension plans.

It is a combination of fraud and administrative resources and it is difficult to distinguish between them. One vote in three is not explainable and probably the administrative factor is a little more than that, said Shpilkin, presenting his research at a seminar organized by the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

The comprehensive new study of the election results has found that millions of votes for the Kremlin's favoured candidate were the product of mass fraud or the use of administrative resources by government officials to pressure state employees into supporting Medvedev. In order to make it appear that Medvedev enjoyed extensive popular support as Vladimir Putin's chosen successor, the results inflated his margin of victory and the overall turnout.

Instead of the 69.7 percent officially declared by the Central Election Commission (CEC), the study reveals that only 56 percent of Russians had actually voted. This makes the vote percentage won by Medvedev just under 63 percent in contrast to the officially touted 70.3 percent, meaning that on a reduced turnout only a third of Russia's 100 million voters supported him.

Through the unusually high number of polling stations reporting turnout and candidate support following different patterns, Shpilkin found that Medvedev's support appeared normal until it reached 60 percent after which it showed series of sharp spikes instead of sloping down as per the 'bell curve' pattern.

Other analysts also affirm that this is sheer discrepancy and exploitation of vested administrative powers.

Sergei Shulgin, an election analyst at the Institute for Applied Economics, said that the anomalies clearly show that local officials had tinkered with the results by improving them.

Andrei Buzin, the head of the Interregional Association of Voters, said that this is a case of blatant manipulation of the results.

The analysis adds force to international criticism that the election was neither free nor fair. The international observers had concluded that Russia's democratic potential was unfortunately not tapped in the elections.

Meanwhile, Kremlin has denied the allegations and said that the result reflected the popular will and CEC has rejected any criticism of the conduct of the election.

However, CEC has landed itself on a sticky turf after unintentionally substantiating the claims of manipulation by awarding polling agencies that forecasted the presidential results. The company that won the prize for predicting turnout claimed that its methods took account of the number of votes that would be added through government pressure.

Medvedev and Putin both have not commented upon the issue.

Last heard at the United Russia party assembly, Medvedev said in his speech that the keywords for Russia's state policy the next years will be continuity, stability, renewal and innovation.

Meanwhile, the assembly has elected Vladimir Putin as the new leader of the party, approving him unanimously on a show of hands, to which Putin readily agreed on Tuesday, April 15.

I accept the invitation of the party. I am ready to take on myself the additional responsibility and head the party, Putin said at the United Russia congress in Moscow.

Putin has already said he will serve as prime minister once his protégé (Medvedev) is sworn in as president on May 7.

United Russia currently has 315 of the 450 seats in the State Duma (lower house of parliament) which it won last December, giving it a two-thirds majority that is enough to even change the constitution or to start impeachment proceedings against the president.

Traditionally, the prime minister is under the president in Russia but with Putin's custom created post of party leader, it is a different ball game altogether.

Putin does not want to be what we call a technical prime minister in Russia, a person who can be removed in 30 seconds if the president wishes to do so; he wants to be a prime minister with his own power base, said Alexei Pushkov, a professor of international relations and a journalist.

This basically means that Medvedev will not be able to rule without Putin's agreement as long as he remains in power for four years with a guaranteed control of the Duma.

Meanwhile, Medvedev told delegates that it would be premature for him to join United Russia. He said that he appreciates the offer and is grateful to those who had made it but believes that the president is in no position to be a member of any party.

Medvedev said that it was better at this point to remain for him to remain a non-party figure and added that United Russia was a party that he felt an affinity with, and the party is very close to him.

Meanwhile, there are doubts prevailing as to whether a double-headed system of government will work in Russia which has been long accustomed to a single leader and questions are being raised over Putin's motive behind taking the new job which most likely enables him to shore up or control Medvedev.

As Sergei Markov, a political analyst and United Russia member of parliament puts it, The appointment [as chairman] strengthens Putin's political weight as national leader. Medvedev is leader of the state and of the Russian Federation, but the political leader of the country remains Putin.

And, even as Putin is basking in the glory of the new rise in his clout, currently the most publicized, and the urgent agenda on his check-list happens to be his getting wedded to his 'love interest' the 24-year-old former gymnast and athlete Alina Kabayeva. Born in 1983 in Tashkent, Kabayeva has represented Russia at both the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games. She has also appeared in an action film and posed in daring photographs as a model, even donning the famed bunny ears for the Playboy magazine.

Kabayeva has made it as a member of parliament (MP) with Unified Russia Party. She has been the deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Youth Affairs and has also chaired the supervisory board of the National Media Group, Russia's new media-holding owned by Yury Kovalchuk, a close friend of Putin's.

And, even as rumor mills are abuzz with Putin thinking of proposing to Kabayeva in his favorite sushi restaurant in Moscow as well as the couple planning to marry mid-June, a Russian paper has claimed that Putin had divorced his wife Ludmilla at a registry office in his hometown of St Petersburg.