Moscow, March 18 (IANS) Russians voted on Sunday in an election that is likely to see President Vladimir Putin return for a fourth term in office and the turnout was on course to surpass figures registered in the previous ballot in 2012, an official from the electoral committee said.
Nikolay Bulayev of the Central Election Commission said 34 per cent of eligible voters had made their way to polling stations by midday Moscow time, nine hours before counting was due to begin in central Russia.
By 1 p.m. on election day six years ago, a little over 30 per cent of voters had cast their ballot; in the capital itself, where turnout was usually lower than in other regions, figures showed a five per cent uptick in voting numbers compared to 2012 despite the unseasonably frigid temperatures, Efe reported.
The electoral commission said turnout had gone up in almost all regions of Russia, the world’s largest nation in terms of geographical area.
Some 110 million citizens were called to vote for one of the eight presidential candidates.
Putin, who has been in power for 18 years, was widely expected to glide into another six-year tenure with most polls suggesting he could take around 70 per cent of the vote.
Critics of Putin have called for a boycott of the vote, saying the election would not be carried out fairly.
Voting was also due to take place in the Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
That move was strongly denounced by Kiev, which sees Moscow as an aggressor in the ongoing civil war in the east of the country.
Apart from Putin, the other seven contenders in the fray are: Sergei Baburin from the All-People’s Union party; Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin; Civil Initiative party candidate Ksenia Sobchak; Communists of Russia party chairman Maxim Suraykin; Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov; co-founder of the Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky; and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Putin, 65, cast his vote at a polling station in the headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow’s Lenin Avenue.
Asked about the percentage of votes he hopes to win, Putin told reporters that he would be satisfied with “any that gives the right to serve as President”.
A total of 97,000 polling stations have been set up across Russia and another 400 in 145 countries.