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Voting underway in Russia as Putin seeks tighter grip

Russians were voting Sunday in a presidential election widely expected to cement President Vladimir Putin's rule for ...

Posted: Mar 19, 2018 8:23 AM
Updated: Mar 19, 2018 8:23 AM

Russians were voting Sunday in a presidential election widely expected to cement President Vladimir Putin's rule for another six years.

Polls in the country's far east have already closed in an election involving 107.3 million voters eligible to cast ballots across the 11 time zones of the world's biggest country.

Putin cast his vote in Moscow on Sunday morning. "I am sure of the correctness of the course that I propose for the country," he said, according to state news agency RIA-Novosti.

Around 97,000 polling stations have been opened across this vast country, according to the Central Election Commission. Russians have a choice of eight candidates, including the communist Pavel Grudinin, a fruit-farm millionaire and Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin's political mentor.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has called for a boycott of the election since he was squeezed out of the race.

Opposition activists as well as the non-governmental election monitoring group Golos were reporting voting irregularities on Sunday afternoon.

By early evening, Golos had counted 2,000 incidents, including observers prevented from carrying out their work.

Navalny himself tweeted a link to a video that purported to show ballot stuffing, where people post multiple votes in one ballot box, in a polling station in Russia's far east.

Russia's Central Election Commission has pledged to investigate irregularities, and has suspended two officials amid allegations of voting fraud in the Moscow working-class district of Lyubertsy, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

It also claimed that its own website became the target of a hacking attack from 15 different countries before the polls opened, TASS reported.

Turnout a concern

The biggest threat to the current team at the Kremlin in this election is a low turnout. The concern is that bored voters, certain that Putin will easily be re-elected, may not bother to vote.

With just hours to go before polls closed, election officials said turnout was high, at almost 52%.

The big push to get the vote out has been aided by a social media campaign.

One video shows newlyweds arriving at a polling station in Tatarstan after tying the knot, the bride in a gorgeous white dress, accompanied by 40 wedding guests. Another tweet shows how to entice voters: put out a smorgasbord overflowing with food -- right in the middle of the polling station.

In Moscow, some people voting were offered free food to eat, while there was heavily discounted food available for sale elsewhere.

Too many 'joke candidates'

A wave of anti-government protests in the past year suggests growing fatigue with corruption scandals seeping through the Kremlin and Putin's inner circle of oligarchs.

Nonetheless, Putin is genuinely a popular figure among many Russians, who see him as a strongman who lifted the country out of post-Soviet chaos to stability.

Great-grandmother Valentina Ivanova, 76, explained to CNN in Moscow why she was voting.

"It's a holiday... one that's important for me and my family and my country."

"My country is getting stronger -- its always been strong -- and we approve of the direction it's going in. But the most important thing is peace. We're a peaceful people. We would like out grandchildren to have peace and an overall good quality of life. My family are internationalists."

Yugene Yarmakov, 23, who was voting for the first time, said there were too many "joke candidates."

"I don't believe I'm going to influence anything," he told CNN.

Polls in the past have also shown that Putin's popularity rises during times of confrontation with the West, so Russians appear to be shrugging off the current diplomatic crises.

Russia-UK relations plunged into turmoil over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy, his daughter and a police officer on British soil earlier this month. British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was "highly likely" the Kremlin was behind the attack, and both countries have expelled diplomats in an ongoing tit for tat.

Russia has also vowed to retaliate after the United States imposed new sanctions on the country this week over its reported cyberattacks and meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In both cases, Moscow has dismissed the accusations of involvement in the attacks.

But such conflict with international powers is unlikely to hurt Putin at home.

In fact, he may be banking on confrontation with international players this election. His United Russia party helped parliament move the date of the vote to the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine. Annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 redefined Russia's role on the world stage and marked the beginning of new, heightened tensions with Western powers.

Voters in Sevastopol, Crimea were given a medal engraved "With Russia forever," RIA-Novosti reported, to commemorate the 2014 independence referendum, considered illegitimate by Ukraine, the US and its European allies.

Only diplomats vote in Ukraine

In a sign of continued tension between Kiev and Moscow, Ukraine said Sunday it would not allow Russians in the country to vote at Russian consulates, according to a statement from the government information agency, Ukrinform.

The statement said only diplomats would have access to Russian diplomatic institutions on Ukrainian territory during the vote "in order to avoid provocations and possible grave consequences." Russian diplomatic buildings in Ukraine would be heavily guarded by Ukrainian police, it added.

Another Russian Presidential candidate is the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.

"These are elections of the supreme ruler not only of Russia, but of the entire Planet Earth," he said after having cast his vote in Moscow.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
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Union337457
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Tate266659
Alcorn260651
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Pike258176
Hancock253557
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Scott241043
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Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
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Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
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Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
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Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
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Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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