Protestors defy Putin as leader heads for predictable landslide win

A woman casts a ballot at a polling station located in the school gymnasium during a presidential election in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024.
A woman casts a ballot at a polling station located in the school gymnasium during a presidential election in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, March 15, 2024. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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President Vladimir Putin looks set to lead Russia for another six years, with exit polls for the highly controlled presidential elections showing a predictably large share of the vote for the Kremlin leader.

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Russians crowded outside polling stations at midday on Sunday on the last day of a presidential election, apparently heeding an opposition call to protest against President Vladimir Putin in a vote that offered them no real alternatives after he ruthlessly cracked down on dissent.

Shortly after the last polls closed in Russia, early returns pointed to the conclusion everyone expected: that Putin would extend his nearly quarter-century grip on power for six more years. 

According to Russia’s Central Election Commission, Putin had 87.9% of the vote with half of precincts counted, as of earlier this evening.

The early results were a reflection of the preordained nature of the election, where Putin only faced competition from three token rivals and any public criticism of him or his war in Ukraine was stifled.

Putin’s fiercest political foe, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic prison last month, and other critics are either in prison or in exile. As well as very little choice for voters, independent monitoring of the election was extremely limited.

As people voted Sunday, Russian authorities said Ukraine launched a massive new wave of attacks on Russia, killing two people in the Belgorod region near the border.

In a tightly controlled environment with little room for real protest, Navalny's associates urged those unhappy with Putin or the war to go to the polls at noon on Sunday — and lines outside a number of polling stations both inside Russia and at its embassies around the world appeared to swell at that time.

People hold sheets reading "enough" as they protest in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, March 17, 2024.
People hold sheets reading "enough" as they protest in downtown Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, March 17, 2024.Associated Press

Among those heeding the call was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, who joined a long line at the Russian Embassy in Berlin as some in the crowd applauded and chanted her name.

She spent more than five hours in the line and told reporters after casting her vote that she wrote her late husband’s name on the ballot.

Asked whether she had a message for Putin, Navalnaya replied: “Please stop asking for messages from me or from somebody for Mr. Putin. There could be no negotiations and nothing with Mr. Putin, because he’s a killer, he’s a gangster.”

Some Russians waiting to vote in Moscow and St. Petersburg told The Associated Press that they were taking part in the protest, but it wasn’t possible to confirm whether all of those in line were doing so.

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