Amid rising tensions with the West stemming from intervention in Syria and Ukraine and allegations of election meddling, Vladimir Putin extended his rule over Russia for another six years with a resounding victory in Sunday’s presidential election.
Briefly addressing supporters gathered in Red Square before meeting reporters at his Moscow election headquarters, Mr. Putin said:
“Dear friends, thank you, that on this frosty Moscow night we gathered here in the capital’s heart. Thank you for your support. I want to address those who gathered in Moscow and the supporters all across the territory of our enormous country. Thank you very much for the result! You are our joint team, and I’m a member of your team.”
Mr. Putin will begin his fourth term with a mandate: Exit polls indicate an astounding three-fourth of voters chose the incumbent president over rivals Ksenia Sobchak, a reality television host, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a Liberal Democrat and nationalist.
With 99 percent of votes counted and over 65 percent of Russia’s 110 million eligible voters participating in the election, Putin had earned 76.66 percent of votes.
Despite his sweeping victory, Putin’s return to office came against a crowded field of candidates, but did not include Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny. A fierce opponent of Putin, Mr. Navalny was prohibited from seeking office over a fraud conviction.
Although Putin and his election team described the returns as a “incredible victory,” accusations of election fraud were widespread.
According to election monitor Golos, hundreds of election violations were recorded, and included ballot stuffing, election observers barred from polling stations, the obstruction of polling station cameras and allegations of voter coercion.
Kremlin opposition group Open Russia also claimed “widespread fraud“, citing video evidence of illegitimate ballots.
Despite the claims of rising vote fraud, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission head, Ella Pamfilova, admitted irregularities did occur, but none were serious.
“We have analysed and monitored everything we could, everything that has arrived. Thank goodness, it’s all rather modest so far,” Pamfilova told the election committee.
Since assuming the Russian presidency upon the resignation of Boris Yeltsin in 1999, Mr. Putin has served as either in the capacity of president or prime minister.
Mr. Putin will return to office at a moment in which tensions with the West are at levels not seen since the Cold War. The latest development revolves around the accusation Kremlin forces were behind the poisoning of former Russian agent, Sergei Skripal, which British Prime Minister Theresa May called “highly likely“, and France and Germany have condemned as “an assault on UK sovereignty” and a violation of international law.
[Moscow Times] [RT] [BBC] [Bloomberg] [The Guardian] [France 24/YouTube] [Photo courtesy AP via Midland Daily News]