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Europe

Putin set for Kremlin return as Russia goes to the polls

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by Ségolène ALLEMANDOU

Latest update : 2012-03-04

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is expected to make a triumphant return to the Kremlin on Sunday as Russian voters braved sub-zero temperatures to head to the polls amid lingering fears of electoral fraud.

Some 109 million voters will brave icy wind and sub-zero temperatures on Sunday to determine who will be Russia’s president for the next six years in a poll that has been overshadowed by an all but certain outcome and lingering suspicions of fraud.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin leads the field by a long shot, with 56 percent of voter intentions according to recent polls. Behind him are Communist leader Guennadi Ziouganov (15 percent), firebrand nationalist Vladimir Jirinovski (8 percent), pro-business billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov (6 percent) and centrist candidate Sergei Mironov (5 percent).
 
That the 59-year-old prime minister should enjoy such a huge lead even as his own popularity has slipped is evidence of the weakness of Russia’s fractious opposition. But according to Golos, an independent NGO that is monitoring the election, the huge lead is also the result of an election campaign that has overwhelmingly favoured Putin, who already served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008.
 
“A law that obliged candidates holding ministerial positions to resign during the campaign was changed,” explained Golos spokesman Arkadi Lubarev. “Putin has therefore been able to profit hugely from his position as prime minister to campaign for the election.”
 
Putin saturates the media
 
Putin, who has refused to take part in any televised debates with his opponents, has enjoyed some 70 percent of the country’s TV exposure in the run-up to the vote, compared with 30 percent for all the other candidates put together.
 
“Some organisations say Putin’s name has been cited in the media more than that of President Dmitri Medvedev,” added Lubarev, who said that gushing tributes to Putin had dominated in two pro-Putin dailies, Izvestia and Vedomosti. “These articles have given him a powerful platform to set out his agenda.”
 
Golos, which is funded by the EU, the US, Britain and the Netherlands, has also condemned the pressure the state has put on independent monitoring groups in the run-up to Sunday’s vote.
 
In February, Golos employees were forced out of their Moscow offices because “the owners needed to do some repair work in the building”. The NGO believes the decision to force them out “came from the top”.
 
In November Putin compared foreign-funded NGOs to Judas the betrayer.
 
FRANCE 24's Douglas Herbert reports from Moscow, Russia
For the vote itself, Golos is worried about possible irregularities, including fears companies may put pressure on their workers to vote for a given candidate or that central government will give regional authorities specific targets for voter turnout and even for the results of certain candidates.
 
In December’s parliamentary elections, Lubarev said Golos had documented widespread fraud, particularly in Moscow.
 
“According to our calculations, if there hadn’t been any fraud, [ruling party] United Russia would not have gained a majority at the Duma,” he said.
 
180,000 web cams in polling stations
 
Yet another Putin victory in Sunday’s poll looks beyond doubt, with few people expecting the former KGB agent to be forced into a second round of voting. The former president took 53 percent of the vote in 2000 while he was interim head of state after Boris Yeltsin’s resignation, and triumphantly took a second term in 2004 with a landslide 71 percent.
 
And while there are suspicions that his electoral history may look just a little too rosy, the government has put in place extra measures to make sure the election is as transparent as possible.
 
Some 180,000 web cameras have been installed in 90,000 voting stations out of a total of 95,000 across the country. International observers will also be in place to supervise the poll.
 
At the same time, Golos will be updating a map on its website with details of alleged frauds taking place throughout the day.
 
The NGO is hoping there will not be a repeat of attacks it suffered during December’s parliamentary poll, when the website crashed, email addresses were spammed and telephone lines blocked.
 
“This time we are ready for anything,” said Lubarev.

 

Date created : 2012-03-04

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