Russians overwhelmingly extended Vladimir Putin’s presidential reign another six years, according to exit polls Sunday night.
The only uncertainty was how many voters will turn out and Putin’s victory margin for his fourth term.
Putin won 73.9 percent of the vote, according to state-run pollster VTsIOM.
Among his seven challengers, the Communist Party’s Pavel Grudinin won 11.2 percent of the votes and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party came in third with 6.7 percent. Liberal Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s political mentor and a TV personality, had 2.5 percent.
Russia’s Central Election Commission said nationwide turnout stood at 59.9 percent at 6 p.m. Moscow time. The last polls closed in Russia’s westernmost city, Kaliningrad, at 8 p.m.
In 2012, the turnout was 65 percent with Putin receiving more than 63 percent of the votes.
The commission said with 21 percent of all precincts counted, all from Russian’s Far East, Putin was leading the race with 71.9 percent of the vote. Because of the time zone differences, voting began Saturday night in the Far East region.
“It’s a key issue of how much he can genuinely claim that he has the support of the Russian people and how much he has to fiddle, tweak and manipulate,” James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think-tank, told NBC.
The Central Election Commission allocated more than $13 million to publicize the election.
In a change, people can vote at any polling station.
The Kremlin was relying on millions of budzhetniki: workers from state factories, army, and schoolteachers who receive their salaries from the government.
Russian celebrities promoted voting on their social media channels, accompanied by the hashtag #votewhereyouare.
In Moscow, voters received a free bowl of steaming buckwheat.
First-time voters also received free concert tickets.
Alexei Navalny, an outspoken Putin critic who was barred from running for president himself, called on his supporters to boycott the vote.
Close to 109 people were registered to cast ballots at 100,000 voting stations across the 85 regions and republics of the Russian Federation. Also, Russian citizens will also be able to cast their ballots in 145 countries, including Israel.
The Central Election Commission said it was being targeted by a cyber attack.
“We are registering what is, in fact, a cyber attack on our information center,” the commission’s secretary, Maya Grishina, said in a report by RT.
Civic Chamber’s website observing the election at one time was down and commission’s website was also attacked soon after voting began.
Pamfilova said the attack originated from 15 countries.
Putin, who has been accused of interfering with the U.S. presidential election in 2016, voted at a polling station in central Moscow on a bitterly cold but sunny morning.
“What percentage of the vote would you consider for yourself successful?” a journalist asked Putin in a sign of the day’s major drama. Putin hesitated for a moment, then said: “Any amount of votes that gives me the right to perform the role of the president.”
If Putin, 65, serves his full term until 2024, he will be the first Kremlin leader to be in power two decades since Joseph Stalin.
Putin rose to power in 2000 as President Boris Yeltsin‘s replacement. Because of term limits, he became prime minister in 2008 and returned as president in 2012.
Four years ago on March 18, Russia annexed Crimea.