MOSCOW (CBSMiami/CNN) – The President of Russia isn’t going anywhere.
Vladimir Putin is set to extend his power in Russia for another six years after winning Sunday’s presidential election with a decisive 73.9% of the vote, a state-run exit poll shows.
Putin was widely expected to win his fourth term as President, with no meaningful opposition in the running and his fiercest opponent, Alexei Navalny, barred from the race.
The Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin was a distant second with 11.2% of the vote, according to the exit poll conducted by the state-owned Russia Public Opinion Research Center.
Exit polls are not final, and official results will be released in coming hours.
Putin has dominated Russian politics for 18 years and was already the country’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
His election win will take his rule to 2024, when he will be 72. But the President hasn’t groomed a successor, prompting speculation he may try to find ways to extend his power beyond this term.
Uneven Playing Field
Putin’s critics have slammed the election as unfair, citing the Kremlin’s tight control over the media, quelling of the opposition and restrictions on some election monitors to ensure a free vote.
Opposition activists and the non-governmental election monitoring group Golos reported voting irregularities. By early evening Sunday, Golos had counted 2,000 incidents, including observers being prevented from carrying out monitoring.
The vote was a huge logistical undertaking, taking place across Russia’s 11 time zones over 22 hours, in around 97,000 polling stations, according to the Central Election Commission.
Several Russians told CNN of a culture of pressure to support the President. A public service employee who asked to remain anonymous said that all the workers in his office were verbally told to go to a celebration rally commemorating the election on Sunday evening.
“A satisfied Putin will come out and give a speech,” he said.
Russia Locks Horns With West
There was little fanfare in the campaign period and Russian news was dominated by developments in political crises between Russia and Western powers.
Russia has been embroiled in a diplomatic crisis with the UK in the run-up to the vote 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 Russia was “highly likely” behind the attack, which involved a military-grade nerve agent. Russia denies the allegation, and both countries have since expelled diplomats over the row.
Relations with the United States took another hit after Washington on Thursday announced new sanctions on Russia over its reported meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Russia has vowed retaliation.
Despite criticisms of the Kremlin’s actions ahead of the election, Putin is a genuinely popular figure in Russia, and confrontation with the West has boosted his approval ratings, past polling shows.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report)