Russians have gone to polls in large numbers to elect a new president, with familiar results.
Vladimir Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and who has been prime minister since then, received nearly 60 percent of the vote, meaning that he will not have to face a run-off election (having gotten more than half of all the votes cast). Other candidates included Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate, Sergei Mironov of the A Just Russia party, the outspoken nationalist candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire whose holdings include ownership of the NBA's New Jersey Nets. None was expected to gain enough votes to force a run-off.
As with the parliamentary election in December 2011, many observers have claimed irregularities in the voting, such as people appearing to be voting more than once, at different polling stations. Reports of such activity came from observers in Moscow and from Novosibirsk, the country's third-largest city. Police presence was especially notable in these and other large cities.
Similar charges were made in the December election, which confirmed Putin's United Russia as the governing party but resulted in fewer members of that party being elected (or re-elected). In response, the Russian government sent out detailed instructions to polling station officials, insisting that they ensure that voters and election officials follow existing laws. Further, the government had Web cameras installed in polling stations. Observers reported being ushered out of polling stations before vote counting began.
Reports of similar activity resulted in a number of large protests against Putin and the government, with protesters numbering in the tens of thousands gathering in Moscow, most recently to form a human chain around Moscow's center square. Competing gatherings of Putin supporters were also well attended. In the last week before the election, the government reported the unmasking of a plot by Chechen rebels to kill Putin.
Opposition leaders promised more protests after the election.