In a far-from-surprising result, Vladimir Putin has a won a fourth term as Russian President, with exit polls suggesting he will have an even tighter grip on power than before.
Exit poll figures are predicting Mr Putin has picked up nearly three-quarters of votes, with the 73.9 per cent figure higher than that of his 2012 election win.
The increase is marked, in 2012 Mr Putin picked up 64 per cent of votes.
The exit polls, published as soon as voting ended, showed that Mr Putin’s closest opponent, communist candidate Pavel Grudinin, was only projected to win 11.2%. per cent.
The results of all other candidates including former reality TV host Ksenia Sobchak were forecast to be in single figures.
Officials reported strong turnout at the polls, with a state exit poll suggesting 63.7 per cent voter turnout, which is down on 2012.
The Kremlin needed higher voter numbers to give greater legitimacy to a new mandate for Mr Putin, as Russia faces increasing isolation over a spy poisoning in Britain and a fresh round of US sanctions.
But the is opposition crying foul.
Seven other candidates ran against Mr Putin, but his most vocal critic Alexei Navalny was barred for legal reasons.
Mr Navalny oversaw a campaign for a vote boycott, and sent over 33,000 observers across the country with manual counters to see how official turnout figures differ from those of monitors.
He said there had been “unprecedented violations”.
His supporters and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse.
Videos from the election commission’s live stream of polling stations appears to show some instances of officials stuffing ballots into boxes.
But the electoral commission dismissed most concerns, saying monitors sometimes misinterpret what they see.
Putin ‘a hero’
Since first being elected president in 2000, Putin has stamped his total authority on the world’s biggest country, muzzling opposition, putting television under state control and reasserting Moscow’s standing abroad.
The 65-year-old former KGB officer has sought to use the campaign to emphasise Russia’s role as a major world power, boasting of its “invincible” new nuclear weapons in a pre-election speech.
Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin said he would be pleased with any result giving him the right to continue as president.
“I am sure the programme I am offering is the right one,” said the man who is already Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin.
Most people who spoke to AFP said they voted for Putin, praising him for lifting the country out of the post-Soviet quagmire.
“Of course I’m for Putin, he’s a leader,” said Olga Matyunina, a 65-year-old retired economist.
“After he brought Crimea back, he became a hero to me.”
Sunday marks four years since Putin signed a treaty declaring Crimea to be part of Russia in a move that triggered a pro-Kremlin insurgency in east Ukraine, a conflict that has claimed over 10,000 lives.
– with AFP
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