Russian President Vladimir Putin won reelection yesterday, remaining Russia’s president for at least another six years. The Russian leader has been the head of the country since 1999, serving as either president or prime minister in that time. Putin captured 76.67% of the vote. His next closest competitor, millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, won a little less than 12% of the vote.
The results were never really in doubt.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission said the election was basically free but was marked by a clear level of censorship. Russia’s Central Election Commission “administered the election efficiently and openly” it said, “after intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers.”
But, it added, the election “took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”
Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, opposition leader Aexei Navalny, was barred from running in the election because of an embezzlement conviction many in Russia believe to be contrived.
Navalny was arrested in January while attending a protest against Putin, which was organized to encourage Russians to boycott the election. He gained notoriety by publicizing reports about corruption among top Russian officials, using social media to bypass the State’s control of television.
Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky placed third after Putin and Grudinin with about 6% of the vote, followed by liberal reality TV star Ksenia Sobchak who captured less than 2%. Four other candidates also ran in Sunday’s election.
In his victory speech, Putin stressed the importance of the country uniting after the election and remaining that way. “It’s very important to keep this unity,” he said. “It’s also very important to attract to us all those who voted for other candidates. We need this unity to go forward. And to go forward we need to feel the support from every citizen of the country.”
“Together we will get to grips with this great work in the name of Russia!” he added.
Turnout in the election increased by about 4%, from 63% in 2012 to 67% this year. The higher turnout plus Mr. Putin’s wide margins allowed his campaign to claim a mandate from the Russian electorate.
It’s an “incredible victory” a spokesman said. “The percentage that we have just seen speaks for itself. It’s a mandate which Putin needs for future decisions, and he has a lot of them to make.”
There were reports of voting irregularities such as ballot stuffing and citizens voting twice. At one polling station, a poll worker is seen moving balloons in front of a camera to obstruct its view while ballots are being counted.
But Russian election officials downplayed the infractions as minor and said there were no serious violations. “We have analyzed and monitored everything we could, everything that has arrived. Thank goodness, it’s all rather modest so far,” Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said.
Presidential terms are six years long in Russia meaning that Putin will be in office until 2024 should he decide to remain. In response to the notion being raised during a post-election press conference that he could be conceivably run again in 2030 if the Russian constitution wasn’t altered, Putin laughed. “I think what you are saying is quite funny. Do you think I will stay here till 100 years? No, no,” he said.