Putin extends rule in preordained Russian election

Putin extends rule in preordained Russian election

Putin extends rule in preordained Russian election

President Vladimir Putin sealed his control over Russia for six more years on Monday with a highly orchestrated landslide in an election that followed the harshest crackdown on the opposition and free speech since Soviet times.

While the result was never in doubt, Russians attempted to defy the inevitable outcome, heeding a call to protest Putin's repression at home and his war in Ukraine by showing up at polling stations at noon on Sunday. But from the earliest returns, it was clear Putin would extend his nearly quarter-century rule with a fifth term.

With nearly all the precincts counted Monday, election officials said Putin had secured a record number of votes — an unsurprising development underlining the Russian leader’s total control of the country’s political system.

Putin has led Russia as president or prime minister since December 1999, a tenure marked by international military aggression and an increasing intolerance for dissent. At the end of his fifth term, Putin would be the longest-serving Russian leader since Catherine the Great, who ruled during the 18th century.

As early results came in, Putin hailed them as an indication of “trust” and “hope” in him — while critics saw them as another reflection of the preordained nature of the election.

“Of course, we have lots of tasks ahead. But I want to make it clear for everyone: When we were consolidated, no one has ever managed to frighten us, to suppress our will and our self-conscience. They failed in the past and they will fail in the future,” he said at a meeting with his campaign staff after polls closed.

Any public criticism of Putin or his war in Ukraine has been stifled. Independent media have been crippled. His fiercest political foe, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic prison last month, and other critics are either in jail or in exile.

Beyond the fact that voters had virtually no choice, independent monitoring of the election was extremely limited.

Russia’s Central Election Commission said Monday that with nearly 100% of precincts counted, Putin got 87% of the vote. Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said that nearly 76 million voters cast their ballots for Putin, his highest vote tally ever.

Western leaders denounced the election as a sham, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy particularly criticized voting in Ukrainian areas that Russia has illegally annexed, saying "everything Russia does on the occupied territory of Ukraine is a crime.”