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    Russia: Polls open in presidential elections

    Voting has opened in the Russian presidential election, with opinions polls projecting Vladimir Putin to win by a wide margin. But the vote could be marred by reports of widespread voting irregularities and violations.
    Russians on Sunday began voting in the 2018 presidential election. Incumbent President Vladimir Putin is projected to beat the seven other candidates in the race to secure a fourth six-year term in the Kremlin.
    Opinion polls forecast the former KGB spy garnering roughly 70 percent of the vote.
    Read more: Putin’s certain victory: What you need to know about the Russian presidential election
    Turnout is expected to be between 63 and 67 percent, according to pollsters. Analysts believe that the turnout rate is a major factor for Putin, who is looking to secure a clear mandate.
    ‘Alarming’ irregularities
    Golos, an election monitoring group, said it received dozens of complaints, reporting electoral irregularities and violations across the country. The issues included several ballot boxes hidden from view of observation cameras and last-minute changes to voter registration lists.
    Read more: Vladimir Putin is counting on female turnout
    The group said Saturday it had registered an “alarming” rise in complaints about employers forcing or pressuring their workers to vote as part of an apparent effort by authorities to boost the turnout and hand Putin a clear mandate.
    DW’s Russia correspondent, Miodrag Soric, was turned away from a polling station in Kazan as he tried to report on the election.
    On Russia’s Pacific coast, in the Khabarovsk region, local officials brought eggs, tinned peas, and frozen pike to be sold at a discount of between 10 and 30 percent to voters at polling stations.
    “By doing this we hope to attract voters to the polling stations and we think we can increase turnout,” said Nikolai Kretsu, chairman of the consumer market committee in the regional administration. “The second objective is to strengthen allegiance towards the authorities.”
    Getting people to the polls
    Putin, who campaigned under the slogan “a strong president, a strong Russia,” on Friday appealed to Russians to “use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love.”
    At the same time, he warned that failing to cast a ballot would mean that “this decisive choice will be made without your opinion taken into account.”
    In the run-up to the polls, Putin pledged to raise wages, inject more funding into healthcare and education and to modernize dilapidated infrastructure.
    Read more: Khodorkovsky: Nobody knows where Putin will drag Russia
    Russia’s last presidential elections in 2012 saw protests across the country against Putin’s return as head of state. The vote was marred by allegations of fraud. The country’s opposition movement also made a strong showing.
    No competition
    This time around, the Russian leader is enjoying a surge in popularity, mainly thanks to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Syria. His most vocal critic, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was barred from taking part in the race because of a criminal conviction that many believe to be politically motivated.
    Read more: Where is the Russian economy headed?
    None of the seven candidates running against Putin, including millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin and former reality TV host Ksenia Sobchak, are expected to pose a threat.
    The polls are taking place on the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
    Voting ends at 8 p.m. (1800 UTC) in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost region.

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