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4 Mar, 2012 04:12

Race for the presidency: Russia hits the polls

Russia's presidential election is nearing its end. Polling stations have closed across the entire country.

Kaliningrad, on the Baltic coast, was the last to open its polls at 9 am Moscow time, and the last to close them, at 9 pm.The 2012 election is widely seen as the most transparent – and the most expensive – in Russia’s history. Almost 200,000 web cameras have been installed at polling stations across the country. Half a million independent observers and volunteers will monitor the vote, a record in Russia. The measures follow allegations of widespread vote violation in a December parliamentary vote, which handed a majority of seats to the ruling United Russia party. This time, anyone can log on to a website streaming live broadcasts of Russians casting their ballots. Around 81 per cent of independent international observers considered the overall organization of the election to be ‘good,’ while 19 per cent said it was ‘fair.’The organization of the election monitoring system has also received positive feedback from many Russian and international observers, with some of them saying the webcam system set up in polling stations is the best on the market.“Regarding to the results of our visits to the polling stations, we can state that the Russian video monitoring system exceeds all world standards,” said Italian independent observer Alessandro Musolino.

Observers have already reported a number of disruptions to the voting process. Monitors thwarted several attempts at illegal ballot stuffing in the city of Ufa. In Yakutsk, police arrested a man on his way to a polling station with eight ballots. He claimed he was testing the vigilance of local police.A serious violation has been reported at a polling station in Moscow Region, where some 1,113 people with absentee ballots are alleged to have been using an “electoral merry-go-round” technique. All their absence ballots had been signed by the same person, observers told the-village.ru.

Russian election chief Vladimir Churov said he would check reports from some regions of shortages of absentee ballots, which are given to people voting far from home. Police are currently checking reports of mass voting with the use of illegal absentee ballots in the Russian capital. During protests against the results of the parliamentary vote in Russia on December 4, Vladimir Churov was accused of assisting mass vote rigging.

By 6 pm Moscow time, voter turnout across Russia had topped 56 per cent – slightly lower than at the last presidential elections in 2008. Polling stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg have closed at 8 pm local time. The turnout in the Russian capital stood at 48 per cent at 6 pm, while around 50 per cent of Saint Petersburg's registered voters had cast their ballots at that time. The intermediate figures are slightly higher compared with both the last presidential election, in 2008, and the parliamentary poll in 2011.Chechnya is reporting a record turnout – 94 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots by 6 pm Moscow time. Voters in the southern Russian republic recorded a 99.5 per cent turnout in December's parliamentary election, with 99.48 per cent voting for United Russia. In another North Caucasus republic, Ingushetia, almost 76 per cent had voted by 6 pm Moscow time.In the Russia’s Yamalo-Nenetsk Region, the turnout was over 85 per cent – so far one of the highest in Russia, along with Chechnya, Tyva, Chukotka and Kemerovo regions.In Russia’s Republic of Khakasia the polls closed at 4 pm Moscow time with a reported turnout of over 55 per cent.In Russia’s Far Eastern territories, voting was over by noon Moscow time and the election authorities have started counting ballots under the supervision of observers. The highest voter turnout, 76 per cent, was registered in Chukotka Autonomous Region and the lowest, 51 per cent, in Sakhalin. Elections have also concluded in Siberia’s Zabaikalsky Region. By 6 pm local time, two hours prior to the end of polling, over 53 per cent of registered voters – 442,000 people – had cast their ballots.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is also a presidential candidate, have cast their ballots in the Russian capital. Other candidates, including independent Mikhail Prokhorov, Lib Dem leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, and Fair Russia party’s Sergey Mironov also cast their ballots on Sunday. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, voted at his Moscow residence.Russian citizens are also casting their ballots abroad, with New Zealand, Australia and Japan the first to open polls.

This is Russia’s sixth presidential election, and the first in which the country is selecting a president for a six-year term. Before a recent amendment to the Constitution Russia's head of state served a four-year term, and was permitted to serve no more than two terms in a row.