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From Cheerful Crowds to DDOS Attacks: Highlights From 2018 Presidential Election
Tony Devon
The Moscow Kremlin towers. (File) PHOTO: Sputnik/Natalia Seliverstova
On March 18, the Russian voters cast their ballots in the 2018 Presidential Election, marking the end of the intense campaign period, which stretched for the past three months.
Preliminary data released by the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) shows that incumbent President Vladimir Putin is firmly set to win his second consecutive presidential term.

While Russia awaits official final results, which are set to be published before the 29th of March, Sputnik is here to provide an overview of the key highlights of this landmark vote.
People line up in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin to cast their votes for Russia's presidential elections, on March 18, 2018 / Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP
Eager Much? Record Voter Turnout Registered
According to the exit polls, the 2018 presidential election featured a massive turnout of voters with over 67.4 percent of the country's electorate casting their ballot.

Unprecedentedly, about a third of those, who voted, casted their ballots in the early hours of Sunday, immediately after the polls opened.
"At 2 p.m. Moscow time the voter turnout was 34.72 percent," Deputy Chief of CEC Nikolai Bulayev said.
The polling stations across Russia were swarmed by the cheering crowds, eager to register their vote.
Russian citizens at the polling station in Russia's embassy in Warsaw during presidential election. Sputnik / Alexei Vitvitsky
This year's electoral participation rates considerably surpassed those from the previous presidential election.

In fact, the CEC authorities in three Federal Districts across eastern Russia noted the increase of 28 percent in comparison to the 2012 elections.

Similar situation occurred at the polling places abroad with numerous expats queueing outside of the Russian missions, as the consular officials recorded historically high turnout rates.

For instance, the Russian embassy in Beijing registered the greatest number of cast votes for the past 10 years.

The turnout results seem to contradict certain estimates made by some western outlets, which suggested that Russians will be largely inactive during this presidential race.
Russian President Vladimir Putin casts his ballot during presidential elections/ Sputnik/ Mikhail Klimentiev
Expect the Unexpected: Electoral Drama Unfolds
Preliminary results indicate that current Russian President Vladimir Putin has won the elections by a landslide, receiving 76.6 percent of the votes as 99.83% of ballots have been counted.

Exit polls are largely in line with previous forecasts, which consistently pointed to a Putin victory.

However, political drama was still very much present during this presidential race, as a new generation of politicians managed to beat senior opposition figures.
KPRF presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin votes during the Russian presidential elections at Moscow polling station №13-06. Sputnik/ Ramil Sitdikov
In an unexpected turn of events, the coveted second place went to Pavel Grudinin, a newcomer to the world of high Russian politics, who was advanced by the Russian Communist Party (KPRF).

Opinion polls previously showed Grudinin running neck and neck with veteran liberal politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Nevertheless, the communist candidate significantly surpassed the liberal, gaining 11.9 percent, while Zhirinovsky received some 5.66 percent.

This clearly demonstrated to observers that the KPRF pre-election gamble of advancing the younger candidate Grudinin over long-serving party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, as well as massively rebranding the political party, has paid off.
Russian presidential candidate from the "Civic Initiative" party, Ksenia Sobchak, votes during the presidential elections at Moscow polling station № 158. Sputnik / Maxim Blinov
Drama also unfolded on the fringes of the political opposition, as another novice politician, Ksenia Sobchak, sparred with veteran opposition figure Grigori Yavlinsky.

Driving her controversial 'Against All' policy platform, Sobchak successfully dislodged Yavlinsky, who secured 1.04 percent of the votes, in comparison to Sobchak, a former TV personality, who received 1.67 percent.

Other newcomers, however, faired more poorly, as left-wing candidate Maxim Suraykin, businessman Boris Titov and academic Sergei Baburin all failed to cross the threshold of 1 percent.
Voting machines at the Information Center of the Central Election Commission of Russia. PHOTO: Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov
Squeaky Clean: Extra Transparency Measures Implemented
The 2018 presidential election also featured enhanced transparency procedures being put in place to ensure the fairness and competitiveness of the vote.

According to the CEC data, over 1,500 international observers took part in overseeing the election.

Some 115 countries, including the US, Ukraine and Austria, dispatched their representatives to supervise the legality of the voting process.

The bulk of the international monitoring team, however, came from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has deployed about 600 observers.

Russian electoral officials also undertook a number of extra transparency-enhancing measures.
Employees of the call center take hot line calls in the situation center monitoring the Russian presidential elections which works in the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. Sputnik / Kirill Kalinnikov
For instance, live feed cameras were installed at each of the 97,027 polling stations across Russia in order to ensure public oversight and accountability.

Moreover, a special call center was set up by CEC authorities with a taskforce of 400 telephone operators to ensure rapid response to violations.

Although some minor irregularities have been referred to law enforcement officials, no major violations took place, according to Russia's Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova.
"There are no major violations that could influence the expression of the will of Russian citizens and could result in the vote disruption," Moskalkova said.
The increased scrutiny was set up to safeguard the voters' confidence and their continuous participation in the democratic processes.
Unorthodox Participants: Rocket-men, Knights and Cats
The fact that the Election Day went smoothly and without significant irregularities, however, does not mean that the 2018 Russian Presidential Election was a dull affair.

The Russian electorate approached voting with characteristically good humor and a dose of political satire.

For instance, one voter in the Leningrad Region wowed election officials by dressing up as the latest Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which was unveiled by President Putin earlier this month.
A group of other voters showed up dressed as ancient Slavic knights, surely in an effort to boost the pro-Russian agenda of candidate Sergey Baburin.
It would not have been an election in Russia without the iconic Russian brown bears having some say.

At least one Buryatian voter casted his ballot, while dressed as Russia's favorite animal, while another bear enthusiast staged an impromptu concert near a polling place, playing Despacito and Lambada.
However, it was not only the voters, who took part in the Election Day festivities, as the polling station in Crimea featured a local cat amongst the election officials.
Officers of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and members of nationalist groups blocking the building of the Russian consulate in Lviv due to the presidential elections Sputnik / Stringer
Foreign Meddling: DDOS Attacks and Ukrainian Nationalists
Unfortunately, although the 2018 Elections went mostly smoothly in Russia, there were certain causes for concern.

First, the CEC website came under a barrage of DDOS attack that originated from multiple countries.
"We prevented DDOS attacks between 23:00 GMT and 02:00 GMT, coming from 15 countries," head of the Russian Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova said.
Although, the elections officials managed to successfully fend off the cyber-attacks without significant interruptions to the electoral process in Russia, the work of polling stations abroad was indeed obstructed and even disrupted.

For instance, Russian Ambassador to US Anatoly Antonov highlighted that "there were acts of provocations" made to disrupt the electoral process, as someone poured filth over one of the polling stations.

The most brazen attempt to disrupt the democratic process occurred in Ukraine, where the government extensively deployed police units to prevent Russian citizens from voting by physically blocking the entrance to the embassy and consular missions.
Members of nationalist organizations stage protest by the consular department of the Russian embassy in Kiev due to Russian Presidential Elections. Sputnik / Stringer
A number of Ukrainian nationalist groups also participated in the disruption of the democratic processes, assaulting the would-be voters.

Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, branded the attacks as "blatant violations of international law."

Similarly, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blasted the Ukrainian government for its bizarre disregard of the democratic principles.

"Why are they doing that? The answer is clear. The Russian citizens, who wanted to vote in Ukraine, see what is happening there. Therefore their choice is clear."
"Such result of expression of free will was unacceptable for Kiev ... That is why the [Ukrainian] regime absolutely brazenly prevented Russian citizens from voting," Zakharova told reporters.
Nevertheless, despite the incidents of foreign meddling, the 2018 Russian Presidential Election was a success, paving the way for the country's unique course for the next 6 years.
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