Scoop News Analysis - Sleepless In Moscow
Election results presently coming in from the Russian Presidential elections could not be closer to the line. Alastair Thompson reports.
The most recent report at around 3am Russian time shows -with 57% of the vote counted - acting President Vladimir Putin ahead of the crucial 50% mark by just 0.1 of a percentage point on 50.01%
With reports from Moscow showing just 46% of the vote going to Putin, it is now clear that this poll is set to go right down to the wire.
Moscow, in Western Russia, will likely be the last area to have its vote count declared through the Electoral Commission - the official count in the Russian poll.
Parliamentary elections held late last year had Mr Putin's Unity group polling far better in the far east than in the more developed and more densely populated west. If this trend is replicated in yesterday's poll then Putin is out of luck in the first round.
Finally, with complaints concerning vote rigging and electoral abuse already underway, the argument over whether Russia will hold an April 16th run off look likely to take several days to resolve even if Putin does win on the night.
However, while the result remains unknown, even at this early stage it is clear that the election result contains several surprises both for the Kremlin and for the West, for which a Putin victory in the first round has long been considered a foregone conclusion.
Firstly the poll is surprising because of the remarkably strong showing of Communist leader Genady Zhuganov.
In polls leading up to the election he had polled consistently in the low 20s. In yesterday's vote it appears he has received close to 30% of the vote - largely at the expense of Putin's vote which has fallen from over 60% just a month ago to its election night level of close to 50%.
What this appears to show is a strong swing against the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin over the last three weeks - during a period in which several damaging allegations have been made in the media concerning Putin's involvement in the apartment bombings which led to the war in Chechnya.
The fall in his popularity appears to also coincide with ongoing claims of victory in Chechnya, followed by new reports of damaging encounters between the Chechen rebels and Russian forces.
In polls last week Putin was forecast to receive around 53% of the vote. Putin had been expected to receive a proportional share of undecided votes, which would have comfortably given him a first round victory.
Yesterday's poll shows the undecided vote, and some of Putin's vote has gone to Zhuganov - who is roundly described as unpopular and relatively uninspiring. This indicates that the vote swing is tactical rather than due to any preference for Zhuganov.
Put more simply - large numbers of swinging Russian voters appear to be voting against Putin.
In the event that Putin does in the end lose today's poll he will line up head to head against Zhuganov in a poll on April 16th - in three weeks time.
The Kremlin will be busy crunching its numbers, and it seems likely it will be fairly worried with what is emerging.
On the basis of polling so far Putin has lost around 10% of support among people who had earlier said they would vote for him - in the space of just three to four weeks.
Also, Russian voters have shown in this poll - as compared to polling results - to be highly volatile and to be on the move.
Assuming Zhuganov gets the votes from Yabloko candidate Grigory Yavlinsky - presently running third on 6% (and who has been strongly attacked in recent days by the Kremlin), then a further swing of only 5% of those who voted yesterday for Mr Putin is needed for the unthinkable to happen - for Vladimir Putin to lose the election altogether.
A sleepless night in Moscow is forecast