Vladimir Putin crushes rivals in Russia's presidential poll
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is poised to make a triumphant return to the Kremlin after claiming victory in Sunday’s presidential election, which foreign observers and the opposition say was tarnished by widespread fraud.
Vladimir Putin crushed his rivals in Sunday’s presidential election with near-total results putting his share of the vote at 63.9 %. Russia's outgoing prime minister, who already has two four-year terms as president under his belt, will enjoy a further six years at the Kremlin after amending the constitution to lengthen the presidential mandate. Critics say the 59-year-old president elect, who is widely expected to run for a fourth term, could be ruling the country until 2024.
Sunday's election marks a triumphant return to the presidency for the former KGB member, who left the Kremlin to his ally Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 because he could not serve three successive mandates. Putin will relish his victory all the more after coming up against unprecedented public opposition in recent months.
But his electoral triumph has already been tarnished by lingering suspicions of fraud, with monitors deployed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) claiming on Monday the vote was "clearly skewed" in Putin's favour.
According to near-total results from the electoral commission, communist leader Gennady Zyuganov came a distant second with 17.18% of the vote, followed by pro-business candidate Mikhail Prokhorov (7.7%), firebrand nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (6.24%), and Sergei Mironov (3.84%), a centrist candidate. Some 64% of the electorate turned out to vote.
'Glory to Russia'
Following the announcement of partial results on Sunday, both Putin and Medvedev took to Manege Square in central Moscow to celebrate with party supporters. “I promised that we would win and we have won!” Putin shouted to the crowd, his face wet with tears – which he claimed were caused by the strong winds.
The new president-elect brushed aside claims the election may have been tarnished by fraud. “We have won in an open and honest struggle. Our people can easily distinguish a desire for renewal and revival from political provocations aimed at destroying Russia's statehood and usurping power,” he said, before wrapping up his speech with “Glory to Russia!”
Some 100,000 people – most of them men – had filled the square even before the results were announced. Few people actually cheered when the numbers were read out, and most refused to talk to journalists. One supporter simply told us: “Yes I support Putin, and of course he won.” On the sidelines, one woman could not conceal her disappointment, crying “I can’t believe this is happening”.
Opposition rallies in Moscow
Putin will be hoping his comfortable margin of victory will silence his critics, who have steadily grown in number since disputed parliamentary elections in December.
But an opposition rally has already been planned for Monday evening in Moscow.
Alexey Navalny, a prominent blogger and opposition campaigner, said the president-elect should take little comfort from what he described as a state-orchestrated celebration in Manege Square. “Today, our leader had a real reason to cry,” he told independent TV station Dozhd.
Claims of irregularities during Sunday's poll have emerged across the country. Golos, Russia’s main independent election watchdog, said it received numerous reports of “carousel voting,” in which busloads of voters were driven to different polling stations to cast their ballots multiple times.
Video footage captured by one of the 180,000 government-installed webcams appeared to show several people shoving wads of ballot slips into the ballot boxes at a polling station in Dagestan. But Putin's campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin rejected claims of fraud, describing the election as “the most honest yet”.