Vladimir Putin won Russia’s presidential election on Sunday with almost 74 percent of the vote, according to an official exit poll, with the opposition reporting ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud.
Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, stood against seven other candidates, but his most vocal critic Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt.
The Kremlin was hoping for high voter numbers to give greater legitimacy to Putin’s historic fourth term as Russia faces increasing isolation on the world stage over a spy poisoning in Britain and a fresh round of US sanctions.
About 107 million Russians were eligible to cast ballots and the central election commission said turnout was 60 percent after the authorities used both the carrot and the stick to boost participation.
Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children’s entertainers were laid on at polling booths in a bid to create a festive atmosphere around the election.
But employees of state and private companies reported coming under pressure to vote, while students were threatened with problems in their exams or even expulsion if they did not take part, according to the opposition-leaning Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
The exit poll by state-owned pollster VTsIOM at 1,200 voting stations around Russia projected that Putin had won 73.9 percent of the vote, up from 64 percent six years ago.
Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin performed better than expected, with 11.2 percent according to the exit poll, but the results of all other candidates including former reality TV host Ksenia Sobchak were forecast to be in single figures.