Putin romps Russian election

The non-governmental Public Opinion Foundation conducted the poll of 120,000 people in 1,200 voting stations.

Polling closed at 0500 AEDT. Five hours earlier, turnout passed the 50 percent level required to validate the poll.

Mr Putin, a former KGB spy, has returned significantly more votes than the 52.5 percent he won in 2000 after succeeding the tumultuous era of his ailing mentor Boris Yeltsin.

This time around Mr Putin obliterated the opposition even while refusing to campaign or debate with his five candidates.

The exit poll showed that the Communist Party challenger Nikolai Kharitonov trailed in second place with just 12.6 percent.

It was a significant drop on the 29.4 percent the Communists won in their last challenge to Mr Putin and underlined the Soviet-era party’s waning influence in modern Russia.

Mr Putin won despite having made just two direct addresses to voters during the month-long official campaign – a 30-minute speech on the first day of campaigning and a call for Russians to perform their civic duty two days before the poll.

“It is useless to engage in pre-election tricks for a person in my position,” the 51-year-old said in televised comments after voting with his wife Lyudmila in southwestern Moscow. “I think I should have made (my positions) clear during the past four years.”

Russian voters had been offered incentives to cast their ballots, from vouchers for free haircuts for pensioners to cinema tickets for young people, Reuters news agency reported.

However, not all Russians appear to have been moved by the gestures.

“I definitely will not vote in these elections,” one woman told Reuters. “Everything was decided for us a long time ago.”

Mr Putin’s rival candidates have complained during the campaign about their lack of access to state media.

And in a jarring reminder of mounting Western concerns about the state of democracy in Russia, Washington rained on Mr Putin’s parade by expressing concern about how the campaign was being staged.

“Russians have to understand that to have full democracy of the kind the international community will recognize, you’ve got to let candidates have all access to the media that the president has,” said US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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