Vladimir Putin won a landslide reelection victory on Sunday according to exit polls, extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the west are on a hostile trajectory.
Putin’s victory will extend his total time in office to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024, by which time he will be 71. Only Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ruled for longer. Putin has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia’s defences against the west and to raise living standards.
In a widely-expected result, an exit poll by pollster VTsIOM showed Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the past 18 years, had won 73.9% of the vote. Backed by state TV and the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating of around 80%, his victory was never in doubt.
The Kremlin was seeking legitimacy in Sunday’s vote by attempting to boost turnout, while the opposition called for a boycott and sent observers across the country to monitor for fraud.
None of the seven candidates who ran against Putin posed a threat, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from running.
Critics alleged that officials offered voters the chance to win iPhones in raffles and prizes for the best polling station selfies. Russia’s central election commission recognised that there were some irregularities, but were likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate.
Putin loyalists said the result was a vindication of his tough stance towards western powers.
“I think that in the US and Britain they’ve understood they cannot influence our elections,” said Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament. “Our citizens understand what sort of situation Russian finds itself in today.”
The immediate question following the result is whether Putin’s opponents, such as Navalny, organise protests. A senior opposition politician has warned that demonstrations could descend into street clashes if police cracked down too hard.