Extending his 18-year rule, Vladimir Putin witnessed a landslide victory in Russia’s presidential poll as voters gave him their resounding approval for a fourth term on Sunday.
Even as the initial turnout estimate was less than the Kremlin had expected, preliminary results on state television showed him bagging more than 70 percent of the vote.
The Kremlin’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had almost 77 percent of the vote with about 95 percent of the ballots counted, putting him on track for a new six-year term, media reports said.
The numbers were high enough for Putin, 65, to claim a popular mandate for another six-year term, which under current term limits should be his last. Putin has been president since 2000, stepping aside for one term as prime minister to get around term limits.
The results represented record support for Putin, who barely campaigned before Sunday’s vote and faced no real competition in an election that even some of his seven rival candidates described as a farce.
“Thank you very much. Together, we’ll take on a great task in the name of Russia,” Putin reportedly said to a crowd of flag-waving supporters at a rally near Moscow’s Red Square on Sunday evening. “Success awaits us.”
Putin is likely to continue with little change in terms of trying to rebuild Russia as a global power while limiting economic reforms at home. Given his lame-duck status, many expect the fight will now begin in earnest among the Kremlin elite to choose his successor.
The Russian leader rules unchallenged at home even as the economy stagnates after the longest recession in two decades.
Abroad, he faces spiraling conflict after the UK directly accused Putin of ordering the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal earlier this month.
Putin has defied US and EU sanctions over his 2014 annexation of Crimea and diplomatic pressure over Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His defiance of the West has played well in the campaign with an electorate nostalgic for Russia’s superpower status.