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, and elsewhere
The outcome has been determined for months; the only suspense has been whether turnout would clear the minimum 50% level without which Russian elections are invalidated. Putin's eager supporters have attempted to combat this by offering various incentives, including discounts on rents, effectively bribing people to go vote. (As of 6:00pm Moscow time, Interfax news service [warning, link in Russian] was reporting that the head of the Central Election Commission was quoted as saying that turnout was at approximately 58%, easily making the required minimum but, it should be noted, well below the turnout in 2000's election).
Russia is in the midst of a major economic expansion, and real incomes have been growing for several years now. It has all been fueled, quite literally, by three things: the price of oil, the price of oil, and the price of oil. Putin's immense popularity is enhanced, needless to say, by the fact that the state-controlled (if not state-run) media has given him almost unbroken positive coverage and largely ignored his rivals.
"This is the strangest election I've ever seen, anywhere in the world. In any democracy, even in a managed democracy, you would expect some competition," one senior Western election observer said.
As this LA Times articles suggests, for his rivals the campaign has largely devolved into setting themselves up for 2008. They have received little attention and only draw on the most loyal support. The only major liberal candidate is Irina Khakamada, who has been polling around 3%; other prominent liberals have called for boycotting the election as a frace but Khakamada has warned, rightly I think, that it is better to participate to help ensure future elections.
What does all of this say about the future of Russian Democracy? I'll leave futile predictions to the political scientists, because it is as unclear as ever where things will go: so much depends on the price of oil and continued economic expansion; whether terrorist attacks like last month's horrific bombing on the Moscow subway are repeated; and, needless to say, how the Chechnyan debacle proceeds from here.
But for now, Putin reigns still as Russia's immensely popular tsar-like president.