Russian voters overwhelmingly granted Vladimir V. Putin a six-year term as president on Sunday, a widely expected outcome that set the stage for a far more suspenseful post-election confrontation between the freshly emboldened leader and an opposition movement that has repeatedly rallied tens of thousands of protesters.
Early results suggested he had won more than 63 per cent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off against another of the candidates and deliver him an unprecedented third term, reports The Telegraph.
“We have won!” Mr. Putin, tears streaming down his right cheek, told a throng of tens of thousands of his supporters on Manezh Square, just outside the Kremlin walls, tells The New York Times.
“We have gained a clean victory!” he said, standing next to Dmitri A. Medvedev, the protégé he chose to succeed him as president just over four years ago, and who now, in a job swap, has been promised the post of prime minister. “We won!” Mr. Putin said. “Glory to Russia!”
His voice hoarse with emotion he added: “We showed that no one and nothing can tell us what to do. We were able to save ourselves from political provocations that have just one aim: to overturn the Russian state and usurp power. Such attempts will not succeed on our land. They won’t succeed!”
The results of 30 per cent of polling stations showed Mr Putin was on course to win with 63.42 per cent of the vote.
The Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was trailing with 17.25 per cent, and the tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov was third with 7.29 per cent.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a populist candidate, had 7.19 per cent while the former upper house speaker Sergei Mironov polled 3.72 per cent.
Mr Zyuganov said the vote was illegitimate and refused to congratulate Mr Putin. “I cannot recognise this vote as honest, fair or worthy,” he said.
Golos, Russia’s leading elections watchdog, said it received numerous reports of “carousel voting,” a ploy used during the disputed parliamentary poll in December in which groups of people vote at several different polling stations using the same absentee ballots.
According to The Huff Post, it is a practice critics say has been used to pad results for Kremlin candidates in elections since Putin came to power in 2000, including a Dec. 4 parliamentary vote in which suspicions of fraud prompted the biggest protests of his 12-year rule.
“Nobody expected these carousels … it is complete impudence,” said Alexei Navalny, a popular protest leader who is among those planning new demonstrations starting on Monday in Moscow and other cities.
Navalny, who sent observers to polling stations, said he had been receiving reports of potential violations all day.
Many reports of falsifications remain unconfirmed, although bloggers posted photographs and videos of groups of people arriving simultaneously at stations to vote.
Vadim Korovin, an opposition activist, claimed he and others had filmed groups of young people meeting outside a McDonald’s near Yugo Zapadnaya metro station in southern Moscow and being paid to vote for Mr Putin. “We caught one of them and told the nearest police station but they refused to do anything,” he said.
Stung by allegations of fraud in the parliamentary vote, Putin ordered thousands of web cameras installed in polling places nationwide for Sunday’s election, and in a victory speech he said he had won “in an open and honest struggle”.
A YouTube video posted by someone who identified themselves as Fremstiller showed men in Russia’s southern province of Dagestan stuffing ballots into boxes one after another.
Grigory Melkonyants, deputy head of Golos, said voting violations took many forms.
The alleged “carousel” voting ring in Southwest Moscow had voters’ names registered at several polling stations, he said, where local election officials most likely knew they were part of a vote rigging organisation but failed to stop them.
“When people have absentee ballots that don’t match their passport … the election commission members usually understand that it is better to let them vote,” he said.
The disparate opposition movement will now hold protests in the capital today. Tens of thousands of people are expected at an opposition rally on Pushkin Square in central Moscow at 7pm.
Mr Putin, 59, voted alongside his wife Lyudmila at a polling station inside the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was president from 2000 until 2008, when he had to give up the post because of a constitutional limit on a consecutive third term. He was replaced by his ally Dmitry Medvedev, who said he had agreed with Mr Putin not to run for a second time.