Putin set to reclaim Kremlin despite protestsAgence France-Presse . Moscow
Russians voted on Sunday in an election set to send strongman Vladimir Putin back to the Kremlin but which the opposition said was marred by fraud and would be followed by mass protests against his rule.
Observers scrutinising the polls and opposition parties said there were clear signs of foul play in the election, including multiple voting, despite the installation on Putin’s orders of webcams to ensure transparency.
Voters from Vladivostok on the Pacific to the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic cast their ballots in the marathon 21-hour election process in which victory for 59-year-old ex-KGB spy Putin appears certain.
The main suspense is not the final result but whether Putin — who has spent the past four years as Russia’s premier — can win easily in the first round against his four rivals, and if the protests will be a serious challenge.
Putting on a trademark show of confidence as he cast his vote in Moscow in a rare appearance with his wife Lyudmila, Putin boasted that he had come ‘straight from sport’ and had not been in touch with his campaign headquarters.
With voting passed halfway in European Russia, turnout was already over 47.6 percent, the election commission said, indicating a higher turnout than in December’s parliamentary polls.
None of Putin’s challengers have been wholeheartedly involved with the protest movement and pollsters have forecast he will win 60 per cent with his Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov trailing in second place with 15 per cent.
Tycoon turned politician Mikhail Prokhorov and the flamboyant populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky are expected to battle for third place, while the former upper house speaker Sergei Mironov is tipped to finish last.
‘I’m choosing a new Russia. Everything is just beginning,’ said Prokhorov as he voted in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia.
In a bid to counter the allegations of vote-rigging that tarred December’s parliamentary elections, authorities installed web cameras in 90,000 polling stations across the country.
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