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 in a widely expected outcome.
With just over 70 percent of the votes counted, Russia’s Central Election Commission announced that Putin had won 75.9 percent of the vote, Reuters reports.
In a victory speech near Red Square, Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, told a cheering crowd that be viewed the win as a vote of confidence in what he had achieved in tough conditions.
“It’s very important to maintain this unity. We will think about the future of our great Motherland,” said Putin, before leading the crowd in repeated chants of “Russia!”.
He told a meeting of supporters afterwards that difficult times were ahead, but that Russia had a chance to make “a breakthrough”, according to Reuters.
Backed by state TV, the ruling party, and credited with an approval rating around 80 percent, Putin’s 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.
The result mark a vindication of Putin’s tough stance towards the West, his loyalists said.
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 cracks down too hard on demonstrators.
The longer-term question is whether Putin will soften his anti-Western rhetoric now the election is won.
Putin’s bellicose language reached a crescendo before the election in a state-of-the-nation speech when he unveiled new nuclear weapons, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.
Allies laud the former KGB agent as a father-of-the-nation figure who has restored national pride and expanded Moscow’s global clout with interventions in Syria and Ukraine.
Critics accuse him of overseeing a corrupt, authoritarian system and of illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, a move that isolated Russia internationally.
At odds with the West over Syria, Ukraine, allegations of Russian election meddling and cyber-attacks and the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter, relations between Moscow and the West are at a post-Cold War low.
Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since 2000.
He has promised to use his new term to beef up Russia’s defenses against the West and to raise living standards.
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