Vladimir Putin claims crushing re-election victory in Russian presidential vote
Vladimir Putin rolled to a crushing re-election victory Sunday for six more years as Russia's president, and he told cheering supporters in a triumphant but brief speech that "we are bound for success."
There had been no doubt that Putin would win in his fourth electoral contest; he faced seven minor candidates and his most prominent foe was blocked from the ballot.
His only real challenge was to run up the tally so high that he could claim an indisputable mandate.
With ballots from 80 percent of Russia's precincts counted by early Monday, Putin had amassed 76 percent of the vote. Observers and individual voters reported widespread violations including ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the claims are unlikely to dilute the power of Russia's longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.
As the embodiment of Russia's resurgent power on the world stage, Putin commands immense loyalty among Russians. More than 30,000 crowded into Manezh Square adjacent to the Kremlin in temperatures of minus 10 (15 Fahrenheit) for a victory concert and to await his words.
Putin extolled them for their support - "I am a member of your team" - and he promised them that "we are bound for success."
Then he left the stage after speaking for less than two minutes, a seemingly perfunctory appearance that encapsulated the election's predictability.
Since he took the helm in Russia on New Year's Eve 1999 after Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation, Putin's electoral power has centered on stability, a quality cherished by Russians after the chaotic breakup of the Soviet Union and the "wild capitalism" of the Yeltsin years.
But that stability has been bolstered by a suppression of dissent, the withering of independent media and the top-down control of politics called "managed democracy."
There were widespread reports of forced voting Sunday, efforts to make Russia appear to be a robust democracy.
Among them were two election observers in Gorny Shchit, a rural district of Yekaterinburg, who told The Associated Press they saw an unusually high influx of people going to the polls between noon and 2 p.m. A doctor at a hospital in the Ural mountains city told the
AP that 2 p.m. was the deadline for health officials to report to their superiors that they had voted.
"People were coming in all at once, (they) were entering in groups as if a tram has arrived at a stop," said one of the observers, Sergei Krivonogov . The voters were taking pictures of the pocket calendars or leaflets that poll workers distributed, seemingly as proof of voting, he said.
Other examples from observers and social media included ballot boxes being stuffed with extra ballots in multiple regions; an election official assaulting an observer; CCTV cameras obscured by flags or nets from watching ballot boxes; discrepancies in ballot numbers; last-minute voter registration changes likely designed to boost turnout; and a huge pro-Putin sign in one polling station.