Moscow – Russians voted in a presidential election that is expected to usher in President Vladimir Putin‘s fourth term.
Seven other candidates are also running in Sunday’s vote, with the incumbent leading in the polls by a wide margin.
Because of the time difference, voting started in Russia’s far east regions of Chukotka and Kamchatka on Saturday at 20:00 GMT.
Results are expected to trickle in by the end of Sunday, and a stage where Putin is expected to deliver his victory address was already set up in Moscow’s city centre, near the Kremlin.
Close to 109 million registered voters have the right to cast their ballot in close to 100,000 voting stations across the 85 regions and republics of the Russian Federation. Russian citizens will also be able to cast their ballots in 145 countries.
In second school/polling station that I've visited now, discounted food from Moseda is being offered. Cheap cans and fruit. Apples look really good! #Russia #выборы2018 #Russiavotes pic.twitter.com/pToR1MWVWq
— Mariya Petkova (@mkpetkova) March 18, 2018
Voting in the far east regions of Russia has ended; the last polls to close will be in Russia’s western-most city, Kaliningrad, at 18:00 GMT.
Independent election monitor Golos reported a turnout in some regions in the far east higher than the last presidential elections of 2012.
In the Moscow district of Babushkinskaya, where Al Jazeera shadowed election observers, there was a constant stream of voters since the morning. At the 532nd polling station, turnout grew from five percent at 10am to 35 percent by 2pm local time.
Pensioner Galina Prokopievna, 58, said she voted for Putin because she respects and loves him and likes how he works.
“He’s tolerant and intelligent. He knows how to deal with the world,” she said.
But in Babushkinskaya, there were also people who were boycotting the elections, or were not interested in voting.
“We don’t have elections. We are seeing what is happening in the country, it is the same candidates as the previous election,” said 32-year-old Katya, who refused to give her surname.
Student Kirill Belov, 18, said he supports Putin but didn’t vote because he thought his ballot would not make a difference.
“I just don’t see any sense in the elections. I feel like everything has already been decided,” he said.
Anton Mityakov, head of the district electoral commission, told Al Jazeera there were no violations reported in Babhushkinskaya district as of 12:30pm and pointed out that all polling stations had livestream cameras installed.
But Vladislav Kuznetsov, an observer for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), said stickers have been illegally added on election posters under the name of CPRF candidate Pavel Grudinin. The stickers claim he failed to disclose bank accounts in Switzerland.
According to Mityakov, the stickers were added after written instructions were sent by the Central Electoral Commission to do so – something Kuznetsov says is not true.
Asked about the music, activities and discount food sales organised in polling stations, the commission head said this was normal, as an election is supposed to be a “celebration” and there was a tender for companies that wanted to sell at polling stations.
“In any country, especially democratic ones, elections are a celebration when people come to cast their vote … Believe me, people are going to vote not because of the food,” he said.
Throughout Russia’s regions, there were reports of similar festive arrangements, including raffles and special sales to attract voters. Throughout the day, Golos also reported instances of ballot box stuffing, people being pressured to vote, and various other violations.
Residents of Crimea voted for the first time in Russian presidential elections. The vote was scheduled to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.
Before the start of the vote, Stanislav Andreychuk of Golos told Al Jazeera it was the first time he saw such mobilisation of local administrations trying to rally people to go vote. “We have never seen before an information campaign to boost turnout on such a scale,” he said.
This is the first vote that children have also been used in campaigning, with schools holding referendums or parent conferences on election day or making students engage in election-related activities to promote the vote, he said.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running in the elections over a fraud conviction in a court case he claims was politically motivated, has called for a boycott of the vote, as have other political groups.
Russian news outlet RBC reported on Friday that the Kremlin has indicated that a turnout of 65 percent would be considered “good”. During the 2012 presidential elections, 65.3 percent of voters turned up to the polls.
As of 7pm local time, state television reported voter turnout of 59.5 percent.