(Updates official figures)
(CNSNews.com) – As widely anticipated, Vladimir Putin has won another six-year term as president of Russia, securing his biggest victory yet in this his fourth presidential election campaign.
With 99 percent of ballots from the country’s 97,000 polling stations counted early Monday morning, Putin had won 76.6 percent of the votes, according to the Central Elections Commission (CEC).
His past presidential election victories garnered him 64 percent in 2012, 72 percent in 2004 and 53 percent in 2000.
With calls for a boycott and expectations of voter apathy due to the absence of any credible opposition among the seven challengers to the incumbent, a key factor in this year’s election has been voter turnout.
As of 7 PM Sunday Moscow time that stood at 59.5 percent, according to the CEC, although eight hours later the official TASS news agency cited the CEC’s deputy chairman as putting the turnout figure at above 63 percent. Voter turnout in the previous three presidential elections Putin contested was 65 percent in 2012, 64 percent in 2004 and 68 percent in 2000.
TASS reported that larger numbers of Russians abroad voted than had been the case in previous elections. At the Russian Embassy in London, where headlines have been dominated this month by allegations that Russia was behind the attempted murder by nerve agent of a former Russian spy, more than 3,400 votes were cast shortly before polls closed, it said.
The foreign ministry said earlier than almost 400 polling places were set up in 144 countries to offer some 1.8 million Russians living abroad the chance to vote.
Putin briefly addressed and thanked supporters at a rally in Moscow held to mark the fourth anniversary of Russia’s controversial annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
“I would like to tell both those who have gathered here in Moscow and our supporters across our entire country: thank you for this result,” he was quoted as telling the rally, which the interior ministry said attracted some 35,000 people.
“I see in this at least recognition of what has been done in the recent years in very difficult conditions, trust and hope of our people that we will work as hard, as responsibly and more efficiently.”
Provisional results give the Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin 11.8 percent of the votes in second place, ahead of Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the ultra-nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party with 5.7 percent.
The one opponent thought likely to offer Putin any realistic opposition, Alexei Navalny, was disqualified from running by the CEC, as a result of an earlier conviction on fraud charges which he and his supporters viewed as trumped-up.
In a blog post, Navalny congratulated Russians who stayed away, saying they had made the correct choice.
Those who did vote, he said, did so in vain.
“These candidates do not deserve your vote. They did not try to earn it, and now they do not make the slightest attempt to protect it,” he wrote. “Stop supporting those who do not care about you. Otherwise, we will always have this way.”
Navalny’s team deployed volunteers and staff to observe polling places across the nation for signs of a repeat of the levels of fraud that sparked large anti-Kremlin protests in 2011 and 2012. They and other observers are expected to issue reports this week, but monitors on Sunday did report some instances of ballot box stuffing and voting by individuals not registered to vote.
Putin has led Russia – as president or prime minister – since 1999. Another six-year term will extend his rule to 2024.