Russian presidential elections that many expect to see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin win have started. Putin faces four opponents as he seeks to serve a third term as president.
The first ballots in Russia's presidential election were dropped into boxes in the far eastern regions of the country on March 4. People on the Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas were reportedly lined up outside polling stations waiting for the election to start at 8:00 local time. Voter turnout was reportedly heavy in the town of Anadyr, population 13,000, located much closer to the American state of Alaska (some 820 kilometers) than Moscow (6,100 kilometers).
Surveys in Russia ahead of the election show Putin should win in the first round with some 60 percent of the vote, precluding the need for a second round. His challengers in the election are Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky and former Senate (upper house) speaker Sergei Mironov. Putin was president from 2000 to 2008 but was constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term. He has served as prime minister under current President Dmitri Medvedev since Medvedev was sworn into office in 2008. Putin and Medvedev have been referred to as the "tandem" during Medvedev's presidency and many believe Prime Minister Putin was making the important decisions for the country.
Since Putin's United Russia party won the December 4 (2011) parliamentary elections there have been several anti-government protests across Russia involving tens of thousands of people. Protesters complained of vote rigging in the December poll and rejected allowing Putin to serve another term as president. Putin has vowed to hold a dialogue with opposition groups that organized these demonstrations. His supporters, who have also held massive rallies for Putin since last December, say Putin is the best guarantor of security and stability for Russia.
Polls are opening at 8:00 closing at 20:00 local time across Russia (Polls in Moscow open 5:00 CET). Nearly 110 million people in Russia are eligible to cast ballots at some 91,000 polling stations in Sunday's election. Russian news agencies report there will be 685 accredited election observers monitors polling stations, 219 from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Webcams have also been installed at polling stations across the country. Russia's Minister of Communications Igor Shchegolev said the webcams logged more than 1 million visits in the first hour after polling stations opened in the eastern part of the country.
Based on ITAR-TASS, IFX, AFP, dpa reports