Russians head to polls; Putin expected to win

Russians head to polls; Putin expected to win
Photo by AP

VOTERS headed to the polls in Russia on Friday, March 15, 2024, for a three-day presidential election that is all but certain to extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule by six more years after he stifled dissent.

The election takes place against the backdrop of a ruthless crackdown that has crippled independent media and prominent rights groups and given Putin full control of the political system.

It also comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine enters its third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, if slow, gains. Ukraine, meanwhile, has made Moscow look vulnerable behind the front line: Long-range drone attacks have struck deep inside Russia, while high-tech drones have put its Black Sea fleet on the defensive.

Voters will cast their ballots Friday through Sunday at polling stations across the vast country’s 11 time zones, as well as in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. The first polling stations opened in Russia’s easternmost regions, Chukotka and Kamchatka, at 8 a.m. local time.

The election holds little suspense since Putin, 71, is running for his fifth term virtually unchallenged. His political opponents are either in jail or in exile abroad, and the fiercest of them, Alexei Navalny, died in a remote Arctic penal colony recently. The three other candidates on the ballot are low-profile politicians from token opposition parties that toe the Kremlin’s line.

Observers have little to no expectation that the election will be free and fair. Beyond the fact that voters have been presented with little choice, the possibilities for independent monitoring are very limited.

Only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies can assign observers to polling stations, decreasing the likelihood of independent watchdogs. With balloting over three days in nearly 100,000 polling stations in the country, any true monitoring is difficult anyway. (AP)

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