Vladimir Putin votes in election he is almost certain to win
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Vladimir Putin votes in election he is almost certain to win

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Vladimir Putin votes for his almost-certain re-election as observers reveal ballot-stuffing

Vladimir Putin has voted in the Russian presidential election, in which he is almost certain to win a fourth term.

The president cast his ballot at polling station number 2151 in the gold-topped headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where he has voted since his first election to lead the country in 2000.

A survey by a state pollster this month predicted that he would get nearly 70 per cent of the vote, but opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called for a voter boycott to depress the turnout forMr Putin's “re-appointment”.

Asked after voting what result he would consider successful, Mr Putin responded: “Any that gives me the right to hold the office of president.”

On Russia's Pacific Coast, where the polls opened first, the authorities were reporting record turnout. The head of the Kamchatka regional electoral commission said participation had reached nearly 64 per cent with two hours left to vote.

But evidence of falsifications had already begun to tarnish the results. In the Kamchatka region alone, independent vote monitor Golos received more than 40 complaints, mostly about urns that were hidden from surveillance cameras. A voter in Ust-Kamchatsk said local school authorities had threatened teachers in a memo that they would be fired if they didn't vote.

Videosfrom Chechnya, where Mr Putin won 99 per cent of the vote in 2012, and several other regions showed people stuffing ballots into urns.

Mr Navalny tweeted a video from a state election monitoring site showing a woman stuffing ballots in the Primorsk region.

The central electoral commission said it had suffered a cyberattack from foreign servers, but the incident occurred before most major cities had begun voting and did not disrupt operations.

More than 97,000 voting places will be opened across the Russia's 11 time zones.

Mr Putin, 65, first became president at the end of 1999, and another six-year term would put him in power even longer than Joseph Stalin.

Despite a stagnant economy and 20 million people below the poverty line, average incomes are far higher now than when Mr Putin first took office. His approval rating shot even higher after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

A survey by a state pollster this month predicted that he would get nearly 70 per cent of the vote.

Mr Navalny, who was barred from running for president due to a politicised embezzlement conviction, has called for a voter boycott and said he has recruited 26,000 electoral observers to catch falsifications.

With Mr Putin virtually guaranteed to beat his meek challengers, all eyes will be on the turnout. The Kremlin has reportedly set its sights on 65 per cent participation, like in the 2012 presidential election. A number much smaller than this would be seen as an embarrassment.

Analyst Nikolai Petrov said that the total number of votes for Mr Putin could also be touchy. “He is guaranteed a high percent, there is no doubt about this, but the total number of votes could be significantly lower than last time, and then Kremlin will have to explain this,” he said, “because this will ruin the myth of an insanely popular leader.”

Lines have stretched out the door this week at the Navalny office where volunteers can sign up to become electoral monitors and undergo training.

“The big thing we learned is that if we see something that shouldn't be happening we should immediately document it by filming on our phones,” said Yana Chechurova, a student who had just been trained. “Our main task is to count the number of votes so they don't falsify the turnout.”

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