To the surprise of absolutely no one, Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected on Sunday in a landslide victory.
The incumbent earned an estimated 73.9 percent of the vote in what was widely considered to be a one-horse race. Although seven candidates announced they would run against Putin in the presidential election, none were viewed as serious contenders amid speculation the other nominees were Kremlin-appointed puppets intended to give voters the illusion of democracy.
Putin bested his next closest competition by more than 60 percentage points. Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin earned just 11.2 percent of the vote, while the nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky finished with 6.7 percent.
Ksenia Sobchak, a TV presenter and socialite dubbed “Russia’s Paris Hilton,” came in a distant fourth with 2.5 percent.
The only serious competition Putin had in the presidential race wasn’t even allowed to run. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was disqualified due to a 2014 charge for embezzlement, charges Navalny claims were manufactured in order to discredit him. An October 2017 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights would vindicate his claims, calling the conviction “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable. ”
The Kremlin hoped to ensure overall voter turnout exceeded 60 percent in order to give the proceedings an air of legitimacy. State officials were given orders “from higher up” to participate in the election, as Time magazine reports, and the government even raffled off iPhones to bribe Russians into voting.
Perhaps the most outré means of getting Russians to the ballot box, however, was a PSA warning voters that if they didn’t show up on March 18, they could end up with state-mandated gay roommates.
Turnout had topped 50 percent as ballots were being counted Sunday.
Whatever numbers come in from the Kremlin, though, should be viewed with skepticism. Over 2,000 allegations of voting irregularities were reported on election dayeverything from forced voting and stuffing ballot boxes to blocking fraud prevention officials from doing their jobs. A mob of men in the southwestern region of Dagestan reportedly crowded an election worker to keep him away from the polls.
Although Navalny called for his supporters to protest the elections by not voting, it’s highly unlikely these reports will lead to calls for a recount or a challenge to the results. Even LGBTQ Russians viewed Putin’s win as a foregone conclusion, as the Washington Post reports.
Gera, a drag performer at a gay club in Yekaterinburg, told the Post he has “neither confidence nor faith” in the outcome of the race. He believes voting is pointless as long as Putin is in power.
“There is no choice,” claimed another bar patron, “no choice at all.”
Putin’s victory in the election means he will rule until 2024, his final term in office. The only Russian leader who has held power for longer is Communist dictator Josef Stalin. In a rally held as the ballots were counted on Sunday, the president credited his continued longevity to voters recognizing “the achievements of the last few years.”
Those purported achievements are debatable. Since Putin re-took the reins in 2012 after a brief hiatus from leadership, the leader has increasingly cracked down on the country’s vulnerable LGBTQ community. Just a year after resuming the presidency, the Duma unanimously passed an anti-gay “propaganda” law forbidding the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors.
Since then, government officials have clamped down on nearly every aspect of queer life in Russia. Gay Prides have been banned, while the government has fined Russians for posting articles to LGBTQ-related news on Facebook.
As LGBTQ people are forced into a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” environment, reports indicate hate crimes have doubled in the Eurasian country.
The club performers and community members in Yekaterinburg who spoke to the Post, however, appeared resigned to six more years of Putin’s rule, even highlight some of the ways in which they believe life has improved under his harsh reign. Many cited the eradication of gangs in the Ural Mountainswhere drug lords once ruled.
“Compared to the Soviet Union and the 1990s when there were gangs, life is much easier now,” one clubgoer claimed.
Photo via Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images