Russia’s presidential election begins

Moscow

Russians are casting their ballots in a presidential election that is expected to hand incumbent Vladimir Putin a resounding victory and a fourth term in office.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (2000 GMT) in Russia’s far eastern regions on Saturday and will close in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Sunday.
There are almost 109 million eligible voters inside Russia, with 94,500 polling stations across the country. An additional 1.8 million voters live abroad, and 369 polling stations are based overseas.
Russian citizens line up to cast their votes at a polling station during the presidential election in Bakikonur, Kazakhstan, on March 18, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)
Official pollsters predict a turnout of around 65 percent in the ongoing presidential election. “I really respect those policies that launched a democratic transformation in our country, and I think that it is important that these democratic transformations continue and that we become a modern and open society and become a stronger economy in the world,” said a 45-year-old voter, Stanislav Naumov.
Putin is most likely headed for another six-year term and faces seven other candidates, with main rivals being business tycoon Pavel Grudinin; a former reality television host, Ksenia Sobchak; and veteran nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
The main opposition leader and Putin’s most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was disqualified from the race due to a fraud conviction that he has claimed was politically motivated.
Putin has seen his approval ratings skyrocket since the last election in 2012. Many say the surge in the incumbent’s popularity is mainly because of his successful policies toward regional issues, particularly the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The 65-year-old leader was first elected in 2000 following a handover of power by then-president Boris Yeltsin, who resigned six months before the end of his tenure.—Agencies

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