Putin on track for commanding win as Russians head to polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to take part in a rally to support his bid in the upcoming presidential election at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on March 3

Now, he faces seven challengers but no serious threat to his rule.

Navalny's opposition movement and the non-governmental election monitor Golos reported ballot stuffing, repeat voting and Putin supporters being bussed into polling stations en masse.

Ultra-nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky took around 6 percent, former reality TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak was on 1.5 percent and other candidates were on less than a single percentage point each.

One election commission worker in the republic of Dagestan, which traditionally registers extremely high official turnout figures, told AFP around 50 men entered the station where he was working and physically assaulted an observer before stuffing a ballot box.

Putin may feign dismay over Western sanctions and diplomatic repercussions after his attacks around the world, but his new term will probably mean more hostility.

According to BBC, the scale of victory - which had been widely predicted - was a marked increase in his share of the vote from 2012, when he won 64 per cent.

The massive victory gives Putin new confidence to stand up to the West.

The election came amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning this month of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Britain and that its internet trolls had mounted an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 USA presidential election.

Navalny said his team planned to stage protests but released few details.

"It's a key issue of how much he can genuinely claim that he has the support of the Russian people and how much he has to fiddle, tweak and manipulate", James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, a London-based global affairs think-tank, told NBC. Navalny had earlier called on people to boycott Sunday's election. She has denied collusion with the Kremlin.

That included pressure on voters to fulfil their "civic duty".

This election, he has wiped off all competition.

The country's Central Election Commission said vote counting was proceeding more quickly than in the parliamentary elections to the State Duma.

Some analysts say that after 18 years of leadership - both as president and prime minister - Putin fatigue may be spreading across the country, and many Russians are expected to skip the polls. He recently announced that Russian Federation has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defenses. The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia's foothold in the Middle East and Russia eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

He would need to make a choice between grooming a preferred successor or staying at the helm beyond 2024, either by scrapping term limits or by shifting into a new position of power.

"For now, I will think about what to do and how to do it", he told reporters late Sunday.



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