No surprises expected at polls as Putin urges Russia to choose 'right' future
Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election today isn't in doubt. The only real question is whether voters will turn out in big enough numbers to hand him a convincing mandate for his fourth term - and many Russian workers are facing intense pressure to do so.
Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Russia's fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg, said in a recent video blog that local officials and state employees have all received orders "from higher up" to make sure that the vote turnout is over 60pc.
"They are using everything: schools, kindergartens, hospitals - the battle for the turnout is unprecedented," said Roizman, one of the rare opposition politicians to hold a significant elected office.
A doctor at one of the city's hospitals explained how one kind of pressure works. The doctor, who gave her name only as Yekaterina because of fears repercussions, said she and her co-workers were told to fill out forms detailing not only where they would cast their ballots, but giving the names and details of two "allies" whom they promise to persuade to go vote.
"It's not something you can argue about," she said at a cafe yesterday. "People were indignant at first, said 'They're violating our rights' ... but what can you do?"
Yekaterina said she isn't sure what she'll do with her ballot, musing that "maybe I'll just write 'Putin is a moron.'" But she clearly understands that not showing up at the polls today will not only endanger her job but will reflect badly on her boss, whom she likes. She added that she wouldn't go to vote if she wasn't forced to.
"What's the point? We already know the outcome. This is just a circus show," she said.
Putin urged Russians to "use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love." He warned that failure to vote would mean "this decisive choice will be made without your opinion taken into account."
While Putin has seven challengers on the ballot, none is a threat. The last time he faced voters in 2012, he faced serious opposition, but since then he has boosted his popularity thanks to Russian military actions in Ukraine and Syria.
More than 1,500 international observers are joining thousands of Russian observers to watch the vote. A Russian election monitoring group reported many smaller complaints - gimmicks such as discounted potatoes for people who vote, or schools holding special performances on election day to "lure" parents to polling stations.
In Moscow, first-time voters will be given free tickets for pop concerts featuring some of Russia's most popular artists - who have campaigned for Putin. For older voters, health authorities are offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations.
Voters in Russia's Perm region said they were coming under pressure from their employers to vote - and to prove it. Messages were sent Friday to regional employees, warning that information about their voting habits would be submitted to management.
Putin has pledged to raise wages, fix health care and education, and to modernise run-down infrastructure.
Among his challengers is Ksenia Sobchak, a 36-year-old TV presenter. Some see Sobchak, daughter of Putin's one-time patron, as a Kremlin stooge to add a democratic veneer to the vote and help split the ranks of Kremlin critics.
Putin's main foe, Alexei Navalny, is barred from running because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated. Navalny has called for a boycott of the vote.
© Associated Press