Friday 14 December 2018

Putin sweeps to fourth term with more than 70pc of vote

Preliminary results put leader into power until 2024, rivalling Stalin

Vladimir Putin addresses a victory rally in Moscow last night. Photo: Reuters
Vladimir Putin addresses a victory rally in Moscow last night. Photo: Reuters
Members of a winter swimming club visit a polling station to cast their presidential election votes in the Russian city of Barnaul. Photo: Reuters
Anti-Putin demonstrators protest outside the Russian embassy in London where ex-pats were queuing to vote

Alec Luhn

Vladimir Putin yesterday won a fourth presidential term with more than 70pc of the vote, according to exit polls, a strong result after a campaign troubled by lack of interest and an opposition boycott.

The public opinion foundation said 77pc of votes cast were for Mr Putin, while WCIOM, the state pollster, said he got nearly 74pc.

While his victory was never in doubt, a poorer showing than the 64pc he got in the 2012 presidential election could have called the continuation of his 18-year rule into question.

Another six-year term will allow Mr Putin (65) to rival Joseph Stalin as the country's longest-serving leader.

In a short speech to thousands of supporters near Red Square late last night, Putin hailed those who voted for him as a "big national team", adding that "we are bound for success".

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, who was barred from running due to a politicised embezzlement conviction, called a voter boycott and recruited 26,000 electoral observers to catch any attempts to inflate turnout. The WCIOM exit poll placed turnout at 63.7pc, just below the 65pc the Kremlin was seeking.

At a school polling station in Odintsovo, an industrial city of 140,000 people in the Moscow region, Sergei Nekhayonok, an electoral commission member, described pressure from the authorities to "raise turnout".

The state-owned factory where he works had been sending him and other employees door-to-door for weeks to encourage people to vote.

Andrei Kondrashov, Mr Putin's campaign spokesman, offered a tongue-in-cheek thank you to Britain for the diplomatic row over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the double agent, which he said had created a "turnout we couldn't have dreamed of ourselves".

"When Russia indiscriminately and without evidence is accused of something, all that the Russian people do is come together around a centre of power. The centre of power today is Putin," he said.

While Pavel Grudinin, the communist candidate, was placed a distant second, his reported 11.2pc marked an improvement over his poll numbers. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist candidate, got 6.7pc. Ksenia Sobchak (inset below), a liberal challenger with high hopes, trailed a distant fourth in the early vote count, picking up just 1.4pc by some estimates.

Reports of falsifications threatened to tarnish Mr Putin's resounding victory, however. Mr Navalny said the officially reported turnout exceeded what his network of electoral observers had counted by 25pc in the Altai republic, 18pc in the Perm region and 12pc in the Kemerovo region.

Online polling station cameras captured many blatant violations. In Chechnya, where Mr Putin won 99pc of the vote in 2012, a man was seen casually stuffing ballots as he greeted acquaintances. In the Primorsk region, a woman tried to surreptitiously shove a pile of ballots into an urn.

The regional electoral commission nullified the results at a polling station in the Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy after ballot-stuffing was caught on camera.

Meanwhile, at a polling place in Kemerovo, which is known for suspiciously high turnouts, a woman obscured the camera's view with balloons as electoral workers began pouring ballots out on a table for counting.

But involuntary voting likely had the greatest effect on results. Golos, an independent electoral monitor, received complaints that state employees had been forced to the polls under threat of firing and voters had been bussed to polling stations en masse. But apathy appeared widespread, especially among young voters. "There's no point in voting because the result is already clear," said student Alexei Kursky (19).

Yevgeny, a 43-year-old mechanic voting in central Moscow, said he briefly wondered whether it was worth voting.

"But the answer was easy ... if I want to keep working, I vote," he said.

He spoke on condition that his last name not be used out of concern that his employer - the Moscow city government - would find out about him.

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