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Putin toward election victory

The only thing that could dampen Putin’s poll triumph is if voter apathy at a predictable contest leads to a low turnout
Putin toward election victory
A voter looks through a broadsheet with information about the candidates during the early voting ahead of the March 18 Presidential Election – Photo: Sergei Karpukhin
17/03/2018
11:21
Reuters
Moscow/Yekaterinburg
Christian Lowe & Natalia Shurmina
-A +A

Russian voters are set to propel Vladimir Putin to another term as President in an election on Sunday, giving him credit for standing up for Russia against Western governments that view him as a dangerous autocrat.

Opinion polls show Putin, 65, with a commanding election lead, all but guaranteeing him another term that will take him to nearly a quarter century in power—a longevity among Kremlin leaders second only to Josef Stalin.

The only thing that could dampen Putin’s poll triumph is if voter apathy at a predictable contest leads to a low turnout, or if the minority of Russians who vocally oppose him take to the streets to protest against what they see as an undemocratic farce.

Kremlin officials acknowledge that Putin’s dominance could turn people off voting. A low turnout would dent his legitimacy within the ruling elite, founded in part on his ability to command popular support.

In an election campaign where Putin has benefited from glowing coverage on mainstream television, he has cast himself as the only person who can defend Russia’s national interests in a hostile world.

Putin’s supporters point to Russia’s military intervention in Syria and its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 as proof of his patriotic credentials. They say U.S. and European sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis are a price worth paying.

A row with Britain over allegations the Kremlin used a nerve agent to poison a Russian double agent in a sleepy English town—denied by Moscow—has not dented his standing.

Though winning another term is virtually assured, governing Russia for another six years will throw up plentiful challenges.

Buffeted by lower oil prices and the effect of Western sanctions, Russia’s gross domestic product expanded by only 1.5% last year, well below the robust growth Russians had come to expect in the earlier years of Putin’s rule.

Putin has spoken of the need to revive economic growth but the steps that many economists prescribe-especially shrinking the state’s role in the economy-are resisted by those in the president’s circle who owe their status and wealth to the state.

His next term may also be overshadowed by uncertainty over his plans once it ends. Term limits bar him from running for another consecutive term, and Putin has said he will not change the constitution to extend his time in office.

Sources inside Russia’s ruling elite say they anticipate he will repeat the maneuver he deployed in 2008, the last time he faced term limits when a loyal lieutenant took over the presidency while Putin governed from behind the scenes.

If Putin, who will be 71 when his next term ends, wants a peaceful retirement, however, he will have to try to engineer a succession. That risks unleashing simmering tensions between rival groups in the ruling elite.

Voting starts in the far east of the vast Russian Federation at 8 a.m. local time and it will roll westwards over 11 time zones, with polling booths in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad due to close late on Sunday.

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