Russian President Vladimir Putin has scored a landslide re-election victory for the fourth time with 73.9 percent of votes, according to an exit poll by state-owned pollster, VTsIOM.
According to the exit poll from 1,200 polling stations around Russia, Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin is runner-up with 11.2 percent of votes.
VTsIOM also said in a statement that over 37 percent of those polled refused to say who they voted for.
Putin’s new election win will extend his total time in office to nearly a quarter of a century, until 2024. He won election on the promise to use his new term to beef up Russia’s defense capability against the West and to raise living standards.
According to Reuters, Putin’s loyalists argued that the election result was a vindication of his tough stance towards the West.
“I think that in the United States and Britain they’ve understood they cannot influence our elections,” Igor Morozov, a member of the upper house of parliament,” said on state television, adding, “Our citizens understand what sort of situation Russian finds itself in today.”
Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin said he would be pleased with any result giving him the right to continue as president, AFP reported.”I am sure the program I am offering is the right one,” he said.
Most people who spoke to AFP said they voted for Putin, praising him for restoring stability and national pride after the humiliating collapse of the USSR.
“Of course I’m for Putin, he’s a leader,” said Olga Matyunina, a 65-year-old retired economist, who added, “After he brought Crimea back, he became a hero to me.”
Sunday also marked four years since Putin signed a treaty declaring Crimea to be part of Russia.
Russia’s presidential 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 were almost 109 million eligible voters inside Russia, with 94,500 polling stations across the country. An additional 1.8 million voters were abroad, and 369 polling stations were based overseas.
Official pollsters had predicted a turnout of around 65 percent in the ongoing presidential election.
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.