President Vladimir Putin cruised to an expected victory on Sunday with exit polls showing he got nearly 74 percent of the vote, allowing him to secure his fourth six-year term as president and cementing his control over the world’s largest country – even as opponents warned of widespread fraud and ballot stuffing.
Putin faced seven challengers in the election, but his most serious competitor, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running by the government over what he called a conviction on a trumped-up corruption charge.
Members of his opposition group and other observers – including 1,500 foreigners – monitored the election that included 97,000 polling stations stretched across Russia’s 11 time zones.
Voting ended at 2 p.m. EDT.
Election authorities reported that voters appeared to be turning out in larger numbers than in 2012 when Putin, a former KGB agent, faced a serious opposition movement and there were allegations of ballot stuffing, voters casting multiple ballots and coercion.
Navalny’s group on Sunday said Russian citizens were posting images online of ballot boxes being stuffed with extra ballots, an election official beating an observer, CCTV cameras aimed at ballot boxes being obscured by flags and discrepancies in ballot numbers.
After casting his vote in Moscow, the 65-year-old Putin appeared confident that he would win a fourth term.
“I am sure of the correctness of the course that I propose for the country,” he said.
First-time voters in Moscow were being given free tickets for pop concerts, and health authorities were offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations, the AP reported.
A 43-year-old mechanic said he questioned whether it was worth voting.
“But the answer was easy … if I want to keep working, I vote,” Yevgeny, who did not want to give out his last name, told the wire service.
Russia has faced fallout over its meddling in the 2016 presidential election in the United States and for using a military-grade nerve gas to poison a former Russian spy on British soil.
Russia has also been criticized for its annexing of Crimea and its support for President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria.
But that didn’t give some voters pause to vote for Putin.
“I voted for Putin,” Lyubov Kachan, a teacher in southern Russia.
“If anything is not going our way right now, that’s thanks to the world which treats us so negatively, while he is trying to stand up to that,” she told Reuters.
With Post wire services