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Putin declared winner of a prez race that was never in doubt

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Moscow, March 18: President Vladimir Putin basked in an election victory that was never in doubt, as officials said Monday that he had won his fifth term with a record number of votes, underlining the Russian leader’s total control of the country’s political system. After facing only token challengers and harshly suppressing opposition voices, Putin was set to extend his nearly quarter-century rule for six more years.
Even with little margin for protest, Russians crowded outside polling stations at noon on Sunday, the last day of the election, apparently heeding an opposition call to express their displeasure with the president. Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999, a tenure marked by international military aggression and an increasing intolerance for dissent.
Early Monday, Putin hailed overwhelming preliminary results as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him – while critics saw them as another reflection of the preordained nature of the election.
“Of course, we have lots of tasks ahead. But I want to make it clear for everyone: When we were consolidated, no one has ever managed to frighten us, to suppress our will and our self-conscience. They failed in the past and they will fail in the future,” Putin said at a meeting with volunteers after polls closed.
Any public criticism of Putin or his war in Ukraine has been stifled. Independent media have been crippled. His fiercest political foe, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic prison last month, and other critics are either in jail or in exile.
Beyond the fact that voters had virtually no choice, independent monitoring of the election was extremely limited.
Russia’s Central Election Commission said Monday that with nearly 100% of all precincts counted, Putin got 87.29% of the vote. Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said that nearly 76 million voters cast their ballots for Putin, his highest vote tally ever.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela quickly congratulated Putin on his victory, as did the leaders of the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while the West dismissed the vote as a sham.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “This is not what free and fair elections look like.” In the tightly controlled environment, 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.
Among those heeding call was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, who spent more than five hours in the line at the Russian Embassy in Berlin.
She told reporters that she wrote her late husband’s name on her 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.” But Putin brushed off the effectiveness of the apparent protest.
Meanwhile, supporters of Navalny streamed to his grave in Moscow, some bringing ballots with his name written on them. (AP)

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