Last Updated: Sun Mar 04, 2012 12:00 pm (KSA) 09:00 am (GMT)

Putin seeks Kremlin return to defy protests as troops step up security

Russian presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin is almost certain to win a third term in an election that began on Sunday in the far east of the country. (Reuters)
Russian presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin is almost certain to win a third term in an election that began on Sunday in the far east of the country. (Reuters)

Russians in the country’s far east started voting on Sunday in presidential polls likely to see the return of strongman Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin for a third term, officials said.

“The polling stations opened as scheduled. Everything is calm,” Oksana Balynina, deputy head of the election commission in the Chukotka region, told AFP.

Victory for 59-year-old Putin appears inevitable, according to state-run pollsters who have forecast a first-round win for Putin with 60 percent of the vote, leaving his Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov trailing in second place with 15 percent. Other candidates include billionaire businessman Sergei Prokhorov and Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Prokhorov and the flamboyant populist Zhirinovsky are expected to battle for third place while the former upper house speaker Sergei Mironov is tipped to finish last. But there are no candidates representing the fledgling protest movement.

“I know Putin for practical actions, not words,” pensioner Zinaida Bykova told AFP in Vladivostok after voting for the man who has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade.

“Every vote is important when you live in a democratic country,” another voter, student Anna Antipenko, told AFP.

Turnout in the far eastern region of Kamchatka to the north was 46 percent by mid-afternoon local time, over 10 percent more than in the parliamentary elections in December, local officials told Russian agencies.

Reports of a high early-morning turnout in the region could indicate a potentially similar pattern nationwide, said the head of Russia’s central election commission, Vladimir Churov.

But Putin’s expected win comes amid wave of protests against his 12 years of domination, after becoming prime minister in 2008 Putin following his eight years as president since 2000.

Russians had begun protests at the end of last year amid reports of widespread cheating in the elections for parliament. The protests were the largest street demonstrations seen in the country since the Soviet Union collapsed twenty years ago.

About 1,000 people were arrested in Moscow during three days in December of protests alleging election fraud.
But Putin had accused the United States of being behind protests over the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections.

Putin said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “set the tone for some opposition activists.”
She “gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work,” he added.

Clinton, however, maintained that her concerns were “well-founded.”

About 6,300 troops have been deployed by Moscow police for tightened security during the marathon election, which stretches over 21 hours which will see around 110 million Russians are being called on to elect a successor to President Dmitry Medevedev.

The electoral commission said it had tested new webcams, which will offer a live broadcast of voting and vote counting in 96,000 polling stations, reported to Sky News.

Putin says the webcams, which cost $435 million, are aimed at avoiding vote rigging. However, while presidential hopeful and Lib Dem leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky cast his vote in western Moscow early Sunday, he said he felt the voting booth did not provide enough privacy for a secret ballot, Russia Today reported.

Meanwhile, Moscow police reported that two people were detained for unlawful campaigning also on Sunday, after being caught posting political leaflets, therefore violating an embargo on campaigning which came in on the eve of election day.

One of the detainees turned out to be on the federal wanted list for alleged assault on a state official, according to Russia Today.

“We are going to respond to provocations with the full force allowed by law,” warned Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev in a briefing with Russian media.

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