Vladimir Putin wins Russian presidential election with almost 90pc of vote, but large protests spark ‘hope’

Vladimir Putin’s grip on Russia’s presidency has tightened after early results in an election some Western governments said was illegitimate indicated he’d won almost 90 per cent of the vote.

Although not everything went his way.

Mr Putin, who has held the office of prime minister or president continuously since 1999, was one of four candidates on the ballot paper, but it was an opposition figure no longer alive who landed the largest blow against him.

Thousands of people turned up at polling stations across Russia, and abroad, to take part in a protest dubbed “noon against Putin” on Sunday, which had been endorsed by the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny before he died in custody last month.

While organised gatherings critical of the government are seldom seen in Russia — and can draw harsh jail sentences — the peaceful demonstration involved people simply turning up to vote at the same time to highlight that opposition to Mr Putin exists, even if the official results don’t reflect it.

Just after 9pm on Sunday local time (5am AEDT), Russia’s Central Election Commission announced preliminary results showed Putin had won with 87.97 per cent of the vote.

The White House immediately issued a statement saying the vote was “obviously not free nor fair”, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is at war with Russia, said the vote was illegitimate.

A long queue of people outside a building, seen from a distance

People stand in a line to enter a polling station around noon in Moscow on Sunday.(Reuters: Maxim Shemetov)

A long line of people standing outdoors, including one holding a picture with a man's face on it

A man waiting to vote in Podgorica, Montenegro on Sunday, makes it clear where his allegiances lie.(Reuters: Stevo Vasiljevic)

Large queues could be seen outside polling stations around midday in Russia, and abroad.

Aysoltan Niyazova, a member of the dissident feminist punk group Pussy Riot, was among hundreds of protesters outside the Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, where people could vote.

“I’m here to support the ‘noon against Putin’ and express my protest against this government, the war, and Putin,” said Ms Niyazova, who spent six years in a Russian jail after being convicted on fraud charges she describes as trumped up.

“I won’t be voting because I believe this is not an election; this is a crime against the election law.”

A woman smiling at the camera with a large queue behind her

Aysoltan Niyazova was among the crowd that turned up in protest at the Russian embassy in Vilnius.(Supplied: Waldemar Lowczyk)

Four people stand in front of a large wall of computer screens, showing CCTV footage on them

Officials monitor voting remotely at the headquarters of Russia’s Central Election Commission on Sunday.(Reuters: Shamil Zhumatov)

Opposition figures suppressed

Many international observers have described the election as a sham, arguing the results are manipulated, the country’s state-run media peddles only pro-Putin propaganda, and that the most high-profile opposition figures are barred from running.

One of them, Boris Nadezhdin, drew a large crowd when he turned up to cast his ballot at a polling booth on Moscow’s outskirts on Sunday.

His anti-war platform had begun to gain traction with younger voters in particular, before Russia’s electoral commission disqualified him several weeks ago, citing irregularities in his paperwork.

Last month he told the ABC, that elections in Russia were neither free nor fair.

On Sunday he bravely admitted he did not vote for Mr Putin: “I believe that the Russian people today have a chance to show their real attitude to what is happening by voting not for Putin, but for some other candidates or in some other way, which is exactly what I did.”

A man gesturing with his finger in the air, surrounded by a large crowd of people

Boris Nadezhdin in Dolgoprudny, near Moscow on Sunday.(Reuters)

A man's face seen from the inside of a clear plastic box full of paper

Members of an electoral commission empty a ballot box to count votes on Sunday.(Reuters: Vladislav Nekrasov)

Several hours before polls closed, the state-run Russian news agency TASS reported voter turnout had reached 67.54 per cent, a number higher than when the last presidential election was held in 2018.

Vilnius is where Navalny’s team has been orchestrating its opposition to the election in exile.

Maria Pevchikh, the chair of the late opposition figure’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, told the ABC the people taking part in the noon protest inside Russia were “heroes”.

“It’s very nice to see all of those people who came here today in solidarity with Navalny, and with our movement in general,” she said.

“It’s always always good to have proof like-minded people exist.”

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