Putin on track for commanding win as Russians head to polls

Putin on track for commanding win as Russians head to polls

Russian President Vladimir Putin looked to be victorious and win a fourth presidential term on Sunday, with the only possible hitch being if large numbers of voters decide to opt out and not vote.

With more than half of ballots counted, he had received 75% of the vote, the central election commission said.

Otherwise, Russians will have to pick one of the eight candidates on Sunday: Pavel Grudinin (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), Vladimir Putin (independent), Ksenia Sobchak (Civic Initiative), Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Sergey Baburin (All-People's Union), Maxim Suraykin (Communists of Russia), Boris Titov (Party of Growth) and Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko).

Putin urged Russians on Friday to "use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love". "But that's good for people here, life is hard", she said.

She had earlier said that anyone involved in violations would be caught. "Why go and vote?" she said. Putin is facing seven challengers but the outcome is pre-ordained given his high popularity ratings.

More than 1,500 worldwide observers are joining thousands of Russian observers to watch the vote.

A March 9 survey by state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Putin, who was first elected president in 2000, support of 69 percent. Several showed election officials stuffing boxes with ballot papers.

"Putin needs to finish what he started", he said.

Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, alleged Kremlin meddling in the United States presidential election, and Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria, have been condemned in the West.

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Turnout-boosting efforts have been the most visible feature of the campaign.

The election results are expected to trickle in by the end of the day and a stage where Putin is expected to deliver his victory address has already been set up in Moscow's city centre, near the Kremlin. In Moscow, authorities spent $870,000 on balloons and decorations at polling stations.

First-time voters in Moscow were being given free tickets for pop concerts, and health authorities were offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations, the AP reported. Some arrived at polling stations on board private-hire buses.

Russia's central election commission says its website was the target of an unsuccessful hacking attempt during Sunday's presidential election.

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 nearly any point in the world and evade a US -built missile shield.

Putin thanked thousands of people who rallied near Red Square after the vote.

Some 145,000 observers were monitoring the presidential vote Sunday, including 1,500 foreigners, and they and ordinary Russians reported hundreds of voting problems.

Russia's annexation of the region from Ukraine in 2014 earned Putin condemnation from Western governments and admiration from many Russians. Exit polls show Grundinin with some 15% of the vote. Some see Sobchak, the daughter of Putin's one-time patron, as a Kremlin project meant to add a democratic veneer to the vote and help split the ranks of Kremlin critics. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.

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