Harare,Zimbabwe (News of the South)-VLADIMIR PUTIN’S victory in Russia’s presidential elections on March 18th was never in any doubt. The vote was less a choice than a referendum on his rule. But even so, he got the result he wanted.

 

With nearly all the ballots counted by the morning of the following day, Mr Putin had racked up over 76% of the vote, a record high for him, and more than ten points up on his performance last time, in 2012.



Turnout, though reported to be lower than last time by exit polls on Sunday night, had conveniently risen to 68% on Monday morning, nearing the 70% goal the Kremlin had set to ensure that the poll would be regarded as a suitably strong mandate. It was also slightly higher than in 2012.

 

“It’s very important to maintain this unity,” Mr Putin told his supporters at a victory speech. “We will think about the future of our great Motherland.”

 

Though there were scattered reports of ballot stuffing, the vote hardly needed to be rigged. Mr Putin ran against a field with no viable challengers, and enjoys widespread support.

 

“This vote is to demonstrate our trust in him once again,” said Valentina Novikova, a schoolteacher from Moscow.

 

Worried about low turnout undermining the legitimacy of the results, the Kremlin resorted to bread and circuses. A faux-festive atmosphere was manufactured at many polling places, with games, food and entertainment on hand.

 

“There are accordions playing and they’re making shashlik[kebabs], you should come out,” one man told a friend on the phone from a Moscow schoolhouse.

 

The opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who had been barred from running because of a fraud conviction he says was trumped up by the Kremlin, had called, seemingly to little effect, for a boycott of the elections.

 

He now claims that the turnout figures have been inflated by as much as 18% in certain regions. (The Central Election Commission said that any violations were limited and had no effect on the outcome.

 

Golos, an independent election monitoring outfit, reported cases of officials and factory bosses rounding up workers to vote, which probably bumped up the turnout figure.)-TheEconomist


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