Putin cruising to landslide victory

Russian president Vladimir Putin is poised to score an overwhelming victory in Sunday's presidential election.

    Putin is expected to win the election by a landslide

    Putin received 68.5% of the vote with 30% of the votes counted, election officials said.

    According to the figures, Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov was in second place with 14.7%, nationalist Sergei Glazyev had 4.4% and liberal candidate Irina Khakamada had 4.3%.

    The "against all" vote, or those who expressed dissatisfaction with all six candidates, had 3.7% of ballots cast.

    Ultranationalist Oleg Malyshkin had 2.7% and Sergei Mironov, the pro-government upper house of parliament speaker, came in last place with 0.8%, the figures showed.

    Exit polls released immediately after polling stations closed in the presidential election, Russia's third in the post-Soviet era, showed Putin getting 69% of the vote.

    Assured of winning a second term, Putin was looking for a strong turnout to give him a powerful, new four-year mandate. He made a last-minute appeal to voters on Sunday amid Kremlin fears that the lack of any real competition would keep voters home.

    "The feeling of involvement must increase year after year," Putin said after casting his ballot alongside his wife, Lyudmila, in Moscow. "Voters must understand the extent of responsibility when they make their choice ... much depends on this election."

    Commission head Alexander Veshnyakov said that turnout was higher than in the December parliamentary elections, which saw 56% participation and gave Putin an obedient parliament.

    After voting ended in the Far East and eastern Siberia, election officials reported that most of those sparsely populated regions had topped 50%.

    With an approval rating of 80%,
    Putin is running away with votes

    One-man show

    Overall, the election was to last 22 hours, stretching over 11 time zones, before ending at 20:00 (18:00 GMT) on Sunday in the enclave of Kaliningrad.

    Most Russians considered the election a one-man show. In the run-up to vote, Putin received blanket coverage on state-controlled television and his five challengers had little opportunity to woo voters.

    Galina Viktorovna, a 47-year-old kindergarten teacher from St. Petersburg, said she cast her ballot for Putin "because I knew him better then other candidates," echoing a reason cited by many voters.

    Some liberals called for an election boycott as the only way for Russians to express dissatisfaction with Putin. Voters could also choose to cast their ballots "against all."

    Cities have been blanketed with posters urging Russians to go to the polls.

    Wooing voters

    Officials have also tried to woo voters with incentives; in the Pacific port of Vladivostok, bread was being sold at polling booths for 6.5 rubles (about 25 cents) cheaper than in nearby stores.

    Sergei Zubov, 52, a Moscow engineer, cast a ballot for nationalist Sergei Glazyev because of his hard-line against oligarchs, a small group of businessmen who made fortunes after the break-up of the Soviet Union in often murky deals.

    Another voter, Zhanna Myasnikova, voted for Glazyev in St. Petersburg because she'd heard so often that Putin would win "that I had a kind of feeling of protest."

    While the Far East was reporting heavy turnout, voters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and Vladikavkaz, near Chechnya, were coming only in small numbers.

    Former President Boris Yeltsin
    cast his vote early on Sunday

    Viktor Kravchenkov, a Rostov construction worker, said he wasn't going to bother voting. "It's all already decided," he said.

    Polling station blasts

    In Chechnya, where Russia is waging its second war in a decade, two bombs went off near polling stations early Sunday but no one was injured, an Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman said.

    Putin has not openly campaigned, instead relying on his image as a stable, disciplined leader to appeal to a nation still traumatized by the political and social upheavals that followed the Soviet collapse.

    Opinion polls had predicted he would gain more than 75% of the vote, with his nearest challenger Glazyev in the low single digits.

    Putin also faces pro-business liberal Irina Khakamada; Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov; Oleg Malyshkin, the little-known candidate from flamboyant nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's party; and Sergei Mironov, who has said he was running to support the incumbent

    More than 500 foreign observers are registered to watch the voting, including representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Some opposition candidates were also planning their own monitoring.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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