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Election Observers: Russian Election Lacked Real Choice

Election Observers: Russian Election Lacked Real Choice

Russia will remain a hard partner, Germany's new foreign minister has said following the re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russian president.

Putin, who is now set to extend his rule until at least 2024 and is already Russia's longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin, appeared to rule out the remaining president for life. The irregularities included ballot stuffing and attacks on some vote observers, as well as reports of ballots being cast by "dead souls".

Critics accuse him of overseeing a corrupt, authoritarian system and of illegally annexing Ukraine's Crimea in 2014, a move that isolated Russian Federation internationally.

Speaking at an event to mark the anniversary of the annexation on Sunday night, Putin told crowds in Manezhnaya Square, just under the Kremlin walls: "Thank you for your support ..."

The Russian strongman ran against seven candidates, but his most vocal opponent Alexei Navalny was barred from the ballot for legal reasons and the final outcome was never in doubt. The Central Election Commission said on Monday that the communist candidate, Pavel Grudinin, came second with 11.8% of the vote, and third was the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky (5.6%).

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The result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West, Putin loyalists said.

Putin has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999. He won 53% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election, 71% in 2004 and 63% in 2012.

Early signs suggested turnout would exceed 60 per cent. Millions of ethnic Russians live in Ukraine but the number of registered Russian voters in Ukraine is unclear. Putin, who has ruled Russian Federation for nearly two decades, recorded his best ever election performance with 76.66 percent of the vote but rejected the possibility of staying in power indefinitely. On Sunday, he took 70% of the capital city, one of the main bastions of the opposition. Selfie competitions, giveaways, food festivals and children's entertainers were laid on at polling stations to entice voters.

Navalny observed sarcastically that in the mainly Muslim region of Chechnya, turnout was 37 percent in polling stations attended by his observers and 99 percent elsewhere.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down suggestions on Monday that tensions with the West had boosted turnout, saying the result showed that people were united behind Putin's plans to develop Russian Federation. Incentives included raffles for prizes including iPhone Xs and cars, as well as festivals scheduled on 18 March to mark the anniversary of the Crimean annexation (last year the Duma changed the 2018 election day to coincide with the date). But Putin's supporters said Western pressure on Putin including Britain's accusations in a spy row and the Olympic doping ban prompted Russians to close ranks behind their leader.


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