But the main opposition leader was barred
VLADMIR PUTIN was comfortably re-elected on March 18th to a second consecutive term, his fourth in all. In fact, he has ruled the country either as president or as prime minister since being appointed by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, and his latest victory means he will be around for at least another six years, after which he will (supposedly) be ineligible to run again. According to Russian state exit polls published shortly after the ballot closed, he won a whopping 73.9% of the vote, about ten percentage points more than he got last time, in 2012. One independent exit poll gave him a couple of points more than that.
But Mr Putin’s critics will dismiss the vote as an almost meaningless exercise, given that the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was not permitted to compete. He had been barred because of a fraud conviction that he says was invented by the Kremlin. None of the other contenders was a serious prospect. Ksenia Sobchak, a former reality-TV star who had hoped to replace Mr Navalny as the candidate of Russia’s liberals, scored a derisory 2.5%.
One sign of reservations about Mr Putin’s victory is that the turnout is reported to be less than in 2012, though at more than 60% it is probably still high enough to give him a reasonable degree of legitimacy in what was, in effect, a referendum on his presidency. Mr Navalny’s appeal for a widespread boycott of the poll seems to have had only limited success. There were some reports of ballot-stuffing, but disturbances around the vote appear to have been minor.
Despite the damage done to the Russian economy by Western sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, growth has returned to a solid 2% or so, muting potential discontent. And Mr Putin’s intervention in Syria, as well as the evident esteem in which he is held by Donald Trump, may also have bolstered his claim to be making Russia respected again.