Russia’s Presidential Election Kicked Off

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There have never been so few names on the ballot paper: Russians are choosing among four candidates in an election with a known result. Regional election commissions in the Far East are reporting high turnout. Authorities are trying to counter a “Polden protiv Putina” rally scheduled for Sunday. Polling stations opened Friday in Russia for voting in a three-day presidential election that, in the absence of real opposition, will keep Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin for at least six more years. The state media have already reported a record turnout in the Far East on the first day of the electoral procedure. At the same time, there was a high proportion of those who voted electronically. In addition to the incumbent, who has ruled for a quarter of a century, there are three other candidates on the list - Vladislav Davankov of the New People party, Communist Nikolay Kharitonov and Leonid Slutsky, who inherited the LDPR from Vladimir Zhirinovsky. These are low-profile politicians from formally opposition parties who are neither against the war in Ukraine nor against the repression that has forced opposition figures and human rights activists out of the country or put them in jail. Despite the fact that the outcome of the election is a foregone conclusion, candidates from non-parliamentary parties and self-nominated candidates (except Putin) were denied registration: signatures in favor of Boris Nadezhdin were rejected by the CEC, and journalist Yekaterina Duntsova was prohibited to collect signatures. The figures responsible for waging war against Ukraine have already checked in at the polling stations. For example, Defense Minister Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff, Gerasimov, who has been out of sight for several weeks, have already voted “in the Southern Military District”. The outlet “Important Stories” reports that budgetary employees and employees of state-owned companies are forced to vote on the first two days of the election. In Kamchatka, state employees are forced to vote on Friday “so that they can rest and do their own things over the weekend”, the SOTA telegram channel wrote. This may be related to Sunday’s “Polden protiv Putina” rally, which is being promoted from exile by some of the Russian opposition. The call to go to the polling stations on the final day of the election was the last political statement of opposition activist Alexei Navalny before his death in prison. According to the idea of Navalny and his associates, the essence of the protest is to give people the opportunity to see like-minded people who oppose Putin and the war. “If we come together, our voice will sound louder,” Yulia Navalnaya said in a video message published on 6 March. At the same time, it is unknown whether going to the polling stations at 12:00 on Sunday will be safe. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office has already threatened the participants of “uncoordinated mass events” with a criminal offence of obstructing the elections. There are reports that observers from public chambers are being trained to distinguish “Polden protiv Putina” participants from other “casual” voters. Among the possible criteria for protest voting according to the authorities are pacifist symbols and “nervous behavior at the sight of police officers”.