Russian President Vladimir Putin won a landslide re-election victory on Sunday, extending his rule over the world’s largest country for another six years at a time when his ties with the West are on a hostile trajectory.
Putin’s victory will take his political dominance of Russia to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024, by which time he will be 71. Only Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ruled for longer. Putin has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia’s defenses against the West and to raise living standards.
In a widely expected outcome, the Central Election Commission, with just over 70 percent of the votes counted, announced that Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, had won 75.9 percent of the vote.
In a victory speech near Red Square, Putin told a cheering crowd he interpreted the win as a vote of confidence in what he had achieved in tough conditions.
Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 percent, his victory was never in doubt. His nearest challenger, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, got around 13 percent, according to partial results, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky got around 6 percent.
None of the seven candidates who ran against Putin posed a threat, and opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from running. Critics alleged that officials had compelled people to come to the polls to ensure that voter boredom at the one-sided contest did not lead to a low turnout.
Turnout figures will be closely scrutinized. Early signs suggested turnout would exceed 60 percent.
Russia’s Central Election Commission recognized that there were some irregularities, but was likely to dismiss wider criticism and declare the overall result legitimate.
The result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West, Putin loyalists said.
Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house, hailed the victory as a moral one over the West.
“Our elections have proved once again … that it’s not possible to manipulate our people,” she said. “People came together. No other country in the world has such open and transparent elections.”
Opposition leader Navalny is expected to call for anti-Putin protests demanding a re-run of an election he says was neither free nor fair. A senior opposition politician has warned they could descend into street clashes if police crack down too hard on demonstrators.
The longer-term question is whether Putin will soften his anti-Western rhetoric now the election is won.