Exit polls show Putin to cement rule after huge victory

The government-run VTsIOM pollster projects Putin had won the election with more than 87 per cent of the vote


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Preliminary voting results in the Russian presidential election are displayed on a screen at the Central Election Commission in Moscow. — AFP
Preliminary voting results in the Russian presidential election are displayed on a screen at the Central Election Commission in Moscow. — AFP

Published: Sun 17 Mar 2024, 11:45 PM

Vladimir Putin was headed for another six-year term as Russian president on Sunday, exit polls showed, paving the way for him to become the longest-serving Russian leader in more than 200 years.

Victory for the 71-year-old in the three-day vote was never in doubt, with all his major opponents dead, in prison or exiled.

The government-run VTsIOM pollster projected Putin had won the election with 87 per cent of the vote after polls closed in Russia's western-most region of Kaliningrad at 1700 GMT.

The highly-touted election was marked by a surge in deadly Ukrainian bombardments, incursions into Russian territory by pro-Kyiv sabotage groups and vandalism at polling stations.

Kyiv slammed the vote as a sham and President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Putin as a "dictator" who was "drunk from power".

"There is no evil he will not commit to prolong his personal power," Zelensky said in a message on social media.

Allies of the late Alexei Navalny — Putin's most prominent rival, who died in an Arctic prison last month — has urged voters to flood polling stations at noon and spoil their ballots for a "Midday Against Putin" protest.

His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was greeted by supporters with flowers and applause in Berlin. She said she had written her late husband's name on her ballot after voting at the Russian embassy.

Some voters in Moscow appeared to heed Navalny's call, telling AFP they had come to honour his memory and show their opposition in the only legal way possible.

"I came to show that there are many of us, that we exist, that we are not some insignificant minority," said 19-year-old student Artem Minasyan at a polling station in central Moscow.

Leonid Volkov, a senior aide to the late opposition leader who was recently attacked in Lithuania where he fled political persecution in Russia, dismissed the results published by Moscow.

"The percentages drawn for Putin have, of course, not the slightest relation to reality," Volkov, Navalny's former chief of staff wrote on social media.

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, argued the long lines outside embassies abroad were evidence of support for the Kremlin.

"If the people queueing abroad to vote in the Russian presidential election had taken part in the 'noon' action, they would have all dispersed after noon. But no," she wrote on social media.

At Navalny's grave in a Moscow cemetery, AFP reporters saw spoiled ballot papers with his name scrawled across them on a pile of flowers.

Putin, a former KGB agent, has been in power since the last day of 1999 and is set to extend his grip over the country until at least 2030.

If he completes another Kremlin term, he will have stayed in power longer than any Russian leader since Catherine the Great in the 18th century.

In a pre-election address Putin said Russia was going through a "difficult period" and called on the country to be "united and self-confident."

A concert on Red Square is being staged on Monday to mark 10 years since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula -- an event that is also expected to serve as a victory celebration for Putin.


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