Putin Victory Expected as Russians Vote in Presidential Elections

Putin Victory Expected as Russians Vote in Presidential Elections

Sunday, 18 March, 2018 - 10:00
People cast their vote in Russia's presidential elections. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Incumbent President Vladimir Putin is expected to score a runaway victory as polls opened in the Russian presidential elections on Sunday.

Opinion polls give Putin support of around 70 percent, or nearly 10 times the backing of his nearest challenger.

Many voters credit Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy, with standing up for Russia’s interests in a hostile outside world, even though the cost is confrontation with the West.

A row with Britain over allegations the Kremlin used a nerve toxin to poison a Russian double agent in a sleepy English town — denied by Moscow — has not dented his standing.

Another term will take him to nearly a quarter century in power — a longevity among Kremlin leaders second only to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Putin’s opponents alleged officials were trying to inflate the turnout.

The majority of voters, however, see no viable alternative to Putin: he has total dominance of the political scene and the state-run television, where most people get their news, gives lavish coverage of Putin and little airtime to his rivals.

Galina Zhukova, a pensioner, came to polling station number 1512 in Zelenodolsk, about 800 km (500 miles) east of Moscow, with her husband, Alexei. They arrived soon after the doors opened.

“We voted for Putin. Things are all right for us,” said Alexei. “And there’s no one else to vote for,” said Galina.

Voting will run until polls close at the westernmost point of Russia, the Kaliningrad region on the Baltic Sea, at 1800 GMT on Sunday.

A March 9 survey by state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Putin, who was first elected president in 2000, support of 69 percent. His nearest rival Pavel Grudinin, the Communist Party’s candidate, is on just 7 percent.

The first politician in years to challenge the Kremlin’s grip on power, Alexei Navalny, is barred from the race because of a corruption conviction he says was fabricated by the Kremlin.

He is calling for a boycott of the election, saying it is an undemocratic farce, and deploying supporters to collect evidence of anyone rigging the ballot to inflate turnout and support for Putin. The Kremlin and election officials say any fraud will be stamped out.

In an address to the nation broadcast on national television on Friday, Putin said voters held the fate of the country in their hands and urged them to vote.

A low turnout would diminish Putin’s authority in his next term, which, under the constitution, has to be his last.

“There is no intrigue. I do not see any point for me in going to the election,” said Alexei Khvorostov, a resident of Krasnodar, in southern Russia.

Yevgeny Roizman, a Kremlin opponent, who is mayor of the industrial city of Yekaterinburg, said officials were using bribes and inducements to persuade people to vote.

“They’re herding the whole country to the polling stations,” Roizman, a rare example of an elected official opposed to the Kremlin, said in a video blog. “It’s degrading... We’re not sheep.”

In the Khabarovsk region, on Russia’s Pacific coast, officials delivered supplies of eggs, tinned peas and frozen pike to polling stations. It will be sold to voters at a discount of between 10 and 30 percent compared to prices in local shops.

“By doing this we hope to attract voters to the polling stations and we think we can increase turnout,” said Nikolai Kretsu, chairman of the consumer market committee in the regional administration.

The elections have not been without incident.

Election monitors reported irregularities at voting stations across Russia. Election monitoring group Golos reported dozens of apparent violations from the Russian Far East to Moscow.

The problems included multiple ballot boxes placed out of sight of observation cameras, and last-minute voter registration changes likely designed to boost turnout.

Russia's central election commission also said its website was the target of an unsuccessful hacking attempt during the elections.

Commission chair Ella Pamfilova told reporters that it was a DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attempt tracked to computers in 15 countries, without naming them. Such attacks are very common.

She said efforts to disrupt the site occurred when voters in Russia's far east were already casting ballots, but they were deterred by Russian authorities.

In Ukraine, security forces surrounded Russian facilities amid anger over the Ukrainian government's refusal to allow ordinary Russians to vote.

Ukrainian police are guarding the Russian Embassy in Kiev and consular offices in Odessa and other cities.

The Ukrainian government announced that only Russian diplomatic officials would be allowed to cast ballots.

Millions of ethnic Russians live in Ukraine but the number of registered Russian voters in Ukraine is unclear.

Ukraine is protesting voting in Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine four years ago. Ukraine is also angry over Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where a deadly conflict continues.

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