Putin on track for commanding win as Russians vote Featured

Sunday, 18 March 2018 03:44 Written by  Read 15 times
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Russian President Vladimir Putin looked to be victorious and win a fourth presidential term on Sunday, with the only possible hitch being if large numbers of voters decide to opt out and not vote.

Polls have given Putin, who, if he is re-elected, would be the vast country's longest serving ruler other than Joseph Stalin, around 70 percent support. Polls are set to close at 2 p.m. ET in Kaliningrad, which is in Russia's westernmost region.

With his win assured, Moscow has launched a high-pressure get-out-the-vote effort to drive up turnout and assure Putin a larger margin and a mandate to enact his agenda.

The eight presidential candidates were barred from campaigning Saturday, but the message to voters was clear from billboards celebrating Russian greatness — a big theme of Putin's leadership — and Kremlin-friendly media coverage.

Russian Presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak casts her ballot for the Russian presidential election, in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 18, 2018. Russians are voting in a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term in the Kremlin. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin)

Putin urged Russians on Friday to "use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love."


While Putin has seven challengers, none is a real threat. The last time he faced voters was in 2012, when he was up against a serious opposition movement. But since then he has boosted his popularity thanks to Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria.

Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-largest city, says local officials and state employees have all received orders "from higher up" to make sure the presidential vote turnout is more than 60 percent.

"They are using everything: schools, kindergartens, hospitals — the battle for the turnout is unprecedented," said Roizman, one of the rare opposition politicians to hold a significant elected office.

Communist party candidate Pavel Grudinin prepares to cast his ballot in the presidential election at the Lenin state farm outside Moscow, Sunday, March 18, 2018. Russians are voting in a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term in the Kremlin. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A doctor at one of the city's hospitals told The Associated Press how one kind of voting pressure works.

The doctor, who gave her name only as Yekaterina because of fears about repercussions, said she and her co-workers were told to fill out forms detailing not only where they would cast their ballots, but also told to give the names and details of two "allies" whom they promise to persuade to go vote.


"It's not something you can argue about," she said at a cafe Saturday. "People were indignant at first, said 'They're violating our rights' ... but what can you do?"

Yekaterina said she isn't sure what she'll do with her ballot, musing that "maybe I'll just write 'Putin is a moron.'" But she clearly understands that not showing up at the polling place Sunday will not only endanger her job, but will reflect badly on her boss, whom she likes.

The Russian doctor said she wouldn't go to vote if she wasn't forced to.

"What's the point? We already know the outcome. This is just a circus show," she said.

More than 1,500 international observers are joining thousands of Russian observers to watch the vote. The government wants to ensure that this election is clean after ballot stuffing and fraud marred the last Russian presidential election in 2012.

A child plays with a balloon near voting booths inside a building of the Kazansky railway terminal during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich - UP1EE3I0UCAIF

A Russian election monitoring group said Saturday it has registered an "alarming" rise in recent days in complaints that employers are forcing or pressuring workers to vote.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent Golos center, told the AP on Saturday the group has also recorded smaller complaints, such as gimmicks like discounted potatoes for people who vote, or schools holding special performances on Election Day to lure parents to an onsite voting station.

He said his own group has come under increasing pressure as the election approached, and warned that independent observers may be targeted by some kind of "attack" on voting day. He didn't elaborate.


As U.S. authorities investigate alleged Russian interference in President Trump's 2016 election, Moscow has warned of possible meddling in the Russian vote.

Turnout-boosting efforts have been the most visible feature of the campaign — and all come from taxpayers' pockets. In Moscow alone, authorities are spending 50 million rubles ($870,000) on balloons and festive decorations at polling stations.

In Moscow, first-time voters will be given free tickets for concerts featuring some of Russia's most popular artists who have campaigned for Putin. For older voters, Moscow health authorities will be offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations.

Election observers and local media have reported threats and coercion of voters to re-register at their place of work and report later that they have voted.

"What's the point? We already know the outcome. This is just a circus show," she said.

- Russian doctor Yekaterina

Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission who was appointed to clean up Russia's electoral system, vowed to respond to complaints about being coerced to vote.

"No manager has the right to tell them where to vote," she said recently

Voters in Russia's Perm region said they were coming under pressure from their employers to vote Sunday — and to prove it. Messages were sent Friday to regional employees, warning that information about their voting habits would be submitted to management.

Putin has pledged to raise wages, pour more funds into the country's crumbling health care and education and modernize dilapidated infrastructure.

Putin's main foe, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race because of a criminal conviction widely seen as politically motivated. Navalny has called for a boycott of the vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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