Putin wins fourth term with record vote

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MOSCOW: Vladimir Putin was on Monday set for another six years in power after winning a record victory in Russia’s presidential election but so far only allies have congratulated him as Moscow’s relations with the West disintegrate.

Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, recorded his best ever election performance with 76.67 percent of the vote but rejected the possibility of staying in power indefinitely.

The opposition said the results were rigged but Putin’s supporters said Western pressure on Putin including Britain’s accusations in a spy row prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader.

Opposition and independent monitors reported ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud as the Kremlin pushed for a high turnout to give greater legitimacy to Putin’s historic fourth term.


REELECTED President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd during a rally and a concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow on Sunday. AFP PHOTO

Putin, who is now set to extend his rule until at least 2024 and is already Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, ruled out remaining president for life.

“Listen to me. It seems to me that what you are saying is a bit funny,” he told reporters Sunday night when asked if he saw himself running for president again in 2030.

“What, am I going to sit here until I am 100 years old? No.”

The Russian strongman ran against seven candidates, but his most vocal opponent Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt.

“I see in this [result]the confidence and hope of our people,” a beaming Putin told supporters on a square next to the Kremlin Sunday night.

Putin’s relaxed mood stood in stark contrast to the 2012 election night when a teary-eyed Putin claimed victory despite huge protests against his Kremlin comeback.

‘Demonization of Putin’
Spokesman for Putin’s campaign Andrei Kondrashov said that at more than 67 percent, turnout was 8 to 10 percentage points higher than expected.

“Britain should be thanked for that,” he told Russian journalists. “They once again started piling pressure on us when we needed to mobilize.”

“The demonization of Putin in the West has had an opposite effect in Russia,” tweeted senator Alexei Pushkov.

Putin received more than 92 percent of the vote in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Most of the voters Agence France-Presse spoke to said they voted for Putin despite a litany of problems like poverty and poor healthcare, praising his foreign policies.

Russia faces increasing global isolation over its interventions in Ukraine and in Syria with a fresh round of US sanctions over election meddling in 2016.

In the run up to the vote, a new crisis broke out with the West as Britain implicated Putin in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal with a Soviet-designed nerve agent.

Authorities also used both the carrot and the stick to boost engagement in the polls.

Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children’s entertainers were laid on at polling stations in a bid to entice voters.

“People went to polls in festive moods and brought kids along—like in the old days” in the Soviet era, wrote Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper.

But employees of state and private companies and students reported coming under pressure to vote.

According to central election commission data with 99.8 percent of ballots counted, Putin took 76.67 percent of the vote, well ahead of his nearest competitor Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, who was on 11.79 percent.

Ultra-nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky took around 5.66 percent, former reality TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak was on 1.67 percent, while veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky received just over 1 percent of the vote.

Navalny—who called on his supporters to boycott the “fake” vote and sent more than 33,000 observers across the country to see how official turnout figures differed from those of monitors—said there had been “unprecedented violations.”

Navalny’s opposition movement and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse.

Navalny said his team planned to stage protests but released few details.

The electoral commission dismissed most concerns, saying monitors sometimes misinterpret what they see.

Runner-up Grudinin said the elections had been “dishonest.”

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has lived in Russia since leaking classified information about the US government’s surveillance programs, tweeted a video apparently showing ballot stuffing in a Russian school.

“The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people,” he said.

“Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter.”

AFP

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