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Takeaways from the predictable Russian election that gave Putin another 6 years in power – Metro US

Takeaways from the predictable Russian election that gave Putin another 6 years in power

Russia Election
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a concert marking his victory in a presidential election and the 10-year anniversary of Crimea’s annexation by Russia on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 18, 2024. President Vladimir Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine a decade ago, a move that sent his popularity soaring but was widely denounced as illegal. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — To no one’s surprise, President Vladimir Putin secured another six years in power in a preordained election landslide that comes amid the harshest crackdown on the opposition and free speech since Soviet times.

The three days of balloting, in which Putin faced three token contenders but none offering voters any real choice, went ahead with barely any independent monitoring and were marked by a level of pressure unseen in previous Russian elections. That left little room for protests, but some Russians still tried to defy authorities.

Some key takeaways from the election:

The Central Election Commission said Putin received 87.28% of the vote, the highest number for any president in post-Soviet Russia. It said turnout was 77.44% of the electorate, also the biggest. Others on the ballot all finished in single digits, and anti-war candidates were not allowed to run.

The state news agency RIA Novosti said the vote “as expected … took place in an atmosphere of unprecedented national unity.”

There was no video from CCTV cameras at polling stations depicting voter fraud or ballot-box stuffing -– access to the footage was more heavily restricted than in previous elections -– and hardly any independent monitors were on hand to document irregularities.

There still was voter intimidation, however, according to Golos, Russia’s prominent independent election watchdog, noting it received reports of citizens being pressured to vote in over 60 Russian regions. On Sunday, voters were searched at polling stations, and some reported police checking their ballots before they were cast or peering over their shoulder while they filled them out, Golos said.

“Nothing like that has happened on such a scale at elections in Russia before,” Golos said in a statement Monday. A total of 89 people were detained Sunday in 22 cities, said OVD-Info, a rights group that monitors political arrests.

The 71-year-old Russia leader “chose to show his adversaries his power,” said political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin’s speechwriter.

Vandalism also was reported at polling stations, with arson attempts or some pouring ink into ballot boxes. On Sunday, a woman who set off a firecracker in a polling station bathroom was injured. At least 34 people were detained on vandalism charges over the weekend, according to Russian independent news outlet Verstka.

The Kremlin has severely crippled the Russian opposition in recent years. Top figures are either in jail or in exile abroad, and the death last month of Alexei Navalny, who was Putin’s most vocal opponent, raised even more questions about what lies ahead for them.

On Sunday, some Russians turned up at polling stations at home and abroad at noon local time and formed long lines in a strategy endorsed by the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other Putin adversaries.

Analysts had said the “Noon Against Putin” tactic would test how well exiled opposition figures could rally supporters amid the crackdown that has largely scared people off from staging mass demonstrations.

Its success was hard to gauge. Navalny’s team shared photos of lines at polling stations in Russia and embassies abroad as proof that many heeded their call. Journalists from The Associated Press and other independent media spoke to voters in multiple locations who confirmed they showed up to take part in the protest.

But Russian officials and state media interpreted the lines in their favor, saying they indicated an increased interest in the election.

This protest couldn’t have had any direct implications for the Kremlin and the election’s outcome, but it did show that such “silent resistance” — both inside the country and abroad — will continue, said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

“The message to political manipulators has been sent: ‘We are here, this is what we are like, we’re not giving up, we’re prepared to be creative in using unexpected windows (of opportunity to protest),’” Kolesnikov said.

In a post-election news conference, Putin looked relaxed, Gallyamov noted, probably realizing that “he has secured his future for at least six years ahead.”

Demonstrating his confidence, Putin even referenced Navalny by name -– something he had made a point of not doing in public in years -– and revealed that days before his foe’s death, he supported the idea of releasing him from prison in a prisoner exchange.

There likely will be a period where officials will take some time off to celebrate the victory, Gallyamov said, but after that, unpopular moves could be in store.

After his reelection in 2018, Putin famously raised the age for which workers could receive their pensions, a decision that proved truly unpopular and prompted protests.

Decisions were made before this year’s election “to keep the lid on public discontent,” such as preventing price increases and not announcing another mobilization of troops for Ukraine, but all that could change now, he said.

The crackdown on dissent also is expected to persist.

Some analysts suggest Putin might further test NATO’s resolve during his fifth term.