Putin wins fourth term as Russia's president
Early results and an exit poll showed that Vladimir Putin handily won a fourth term as Russia's president yesterday, adding six years in the Kremlin for the man who has led the world's largest country, as either president or prime minister for the past 18 years.
The vote was tainted by widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the complaints will likely do little to undermine Putin. The Russian leader's popularity remains high despite his suppression of dissent and reproach from the West over Russia's increasingly aggressive stance in world affairs and alleged interference in the 2016 US election.
Putin's main challenges in the vote were to obtain a huge margin of victory in order to claim an indisputable mandate. The Central Elections Commission said Putin had secured a resounding victory.
Russian authorities had sought to ensure a large turnout to bolster the image that Putin's so-called "managed democracy" is robust and offers Russians true choices.
He faced seven minor candidates on the ballot. Putin's most vehement and visible foe, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was rejected as a candidate because he was convicted of fraud in a case widely regarded as politically motivated. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott, but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.
The election came amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain and that its Internet trolls had mounted an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 US presidential election. Britain and Russia last week announced diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions.
Russian officials denounced both cases as efforts to interfere in the Russian election. But the disputes likely worked in Putin's favour, reinforcing the official contention that the West is infected with 'Russophobia' and is determined to undermine Putin and Russian cultural values.
Putin has come to embody Russia's exceptionalism, the sense of the state and culture as an extraordinary entity that is nonetheless under constant attack from outside.