Russians are voting in an election that holds little suspense after Putin crushed dissent

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an electronic voting during a presidential voting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on March 15, 2024.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an electronic voting during a presidential voting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, on March 15, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

Russia began three days of voting on Friday in a presidential election that is all but certain to extend President Vladimir Putin’s rule by six more years after he stifled dissent.

At least half a dozen cases of vandalism at polling stations were reported, including a firebombing.

The election takes place against the backdrop of a ruthless crackdown that has crippled independent media and prominent rights groups and given Mr. Putin full control of the political system.

It also comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine enters its third year. Russia has the advantage on the battlefield, where it is making small, if slow, gains.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has made Moscow look vulnerable behind the front line.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine have reported several attempts by Ukrainian fighters to take towns this week. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that “it is beyond any doubt that they are related one way or another to attempts to cast a shadow on the elections.”

Voters are casting their ballots on Friday through Sunday at polling stations across the vast country’s 11 time zones, in illegally annexed regions of Ukraine and online.

Also read | Alexei Navalny, who galvanised opposition to Putin, is laid to rest after his death in prison

Officials said that voting was proceeding in an orderly fashion. But in St. Petersburg, a woman threw a Molotov cocktail onto the roof of a school that houses a polling station, local news media reported. The deputy head of the Russian Central Election Commission said people poured green liquid into ballot boxes in five places, including in Moscow.

The election holds little suspense since Mr. Putin, 71, is running for his fifth term virtually unchallenged. His political opponents are either in jail or in exile; the fiercest of them, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony last month. The three other candidates on the ballot are low-profile politicians from token opposition parties that toe the Kremlin’s line.

No Opposition, choice

Observers have little to no expectation that the election will be free and fair.

European Council President Charles Michel mordantly commented on Friday on the vote’s preordained nature. “Would like to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in the elections starting today. No opposition. No freedom. No choice,” he wrote on X.

Beyond the fact that voters have been presented with few options, the possibilities for independent monitoring are very limited. No significant international observer missions were present.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe’s monitors were not invited, and only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies can assign observers to polling stations, decreasing the likelihood of independent watchdogs. With balloting over three days in nearly 1,00,000 polling stations in the country, any true oversight is difficult anyway.

“The current elections will not be able to reflect the real mood of the people,” Golos, Russia’s renowned independent election observer group, said in the report.

“The distance between citizens and decision-making about the fate of the country has become greater than ever.”

Leave a Comment