Vladimir Putin will now extend his power in Russia for another six years after winning Sunday’s presidential election with a projected 76.6% of the votes cast, a state-run exit poll shows.
Putin won with a landslide as he had no meaningful opposition in the running and his fiercest opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the showdown.
According to CNN, Putin declared victory in front of thousands of people gathered in below-freezing temperatures at Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Sunday night, where he called for unity in the country.
“We are a great big team together and I am a member of your team,” he said, after a colorful show of high-energy musical performances.
His victory will take his rule to 2024, when he will be 71 and obliged by the Constitution to step down. But the President hasn’t groomed a successor, prompting speculation from fierce critics he may try to find ways to extend his power beyond this term.
Putin’s critics have slammed the poll as unfair, citing the Kremlin’s tight control over the media, quelling of the opposition and restrictions on some election monitors to ensure a free vote.
By early evening Sunday, the NGO monitoring group Golos had counted 2,000 incidents of voting irregularities, including observers being prevented from carrying out monitoring.
The vote was a huge logistical undertaking, taking place across Russia’s 11 time zones over 22 hours, in around 97,000 polling stations, according to the Central Election Commission.
Putin, a former KGB spy, has dominated Russian politics for 18 years and the 65-year-old was already the country’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
He was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation from 1999 until 2000, and again from 2008 until 2012.
During his second term as Prime Minister, he was the chairman of the ruling United Russia party.
Putin studied Law at the Saint Petersburg State University in 1970 and graduated in 1975.
His thesis was on “The Most Favored Nation Trading Principle in International Law”.