Mon, Mar 19, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Russia votes to hand Putin fourth term

‘CIRCUS SHOW’:Many Russians were pressured to vote, while a mayor said they had orders from ‘higher up’ to make sure that voter turnout was more than 60 percent

AP, YEKATERINBURG, Russia

A voter walks out of a voting booth at a polling station outside Moscow yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s victory in yesterday’s presidential election was not in doubt. The only real question was whether voters would turn out in big enough numbers to hand him a convincing mandate for his fourth term — and many Russians were facing intense pressure to do so.

Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin seemed confident of victory, saying he would consider any percentage of votes a success.

“The program that I propose for the country is the right one,” he said.

Election monitors reported irregularities at voting stations across Russia, even though election authorities were under orders to ensure that the voting was free and fair after violations marred Putin’s last election in 2012.

Back then, Putin faced a serious opposition movement, but since then he has boosted his popularity thanks to Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria.

Yesterday, he faced seven challengers, but no serious threat to his rule.

Voters cast ballots across the world’s largest country, from the Pacific coast to Siberia and Moscow. Voting was to conclude at 8pm in Kaliningrad, the Baltic exclave that is Russia’s westernmost region, and initial results were expected soon afterward.

Putin was so certain of winning that authorities were investing instead in massive get-out-the-vote efforts to produce a turnout that would embolden the Russian leader both domestically and internationally.

Election monitoring group Golos and online groups set up to record violations yesterday reported scores of problems.

They included discrepancies in ballot numbers, ballot boxes placed out of sight of observation cameras and last-minute voter registration changes.

The central election commission released midway turnout figures for far eastern and Siberian regions ranging from 28 to 100 percent.

However, the figures meant little because the population is heavily concentrated farther west in European Russia.

About 145,000 observers monitored the voting in the world’s largest country, including 1,500 foreigners and representatives from opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s political movement.

Navalny is barred from running.

Many voters said they were under pressure from their employers to vote.

Yevgeny, a 43-year-old mechanic voting in central Moscow, said he briefly wondered whether it was worth voting.

“But the answer was easy... If I want to keep working, I vote,” he said.

He said his bosses have not asked for proof of voting, but he fears they will.

Yevgeny spoke on condition that his last name not be used out of concern that his employer — the Moscow city government — would find out.

Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman told reporters that local officials and state employees have all received orders “from higher up” to make sure the 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.

A doctor at one of the city’s hospitals told reporters 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 coworkers were told to fill out forms detailing not only where they would cast their ballots, but giving the names and details of two “allies” whom they promised to persuade to go vote.

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