Widespread fraud reported in Russian elections
It is a mark of an insecure man that even though he could almost certainly win in a fair and square contest, Vladmir Putin feels it necessary to cheat.
The Russian people are going to the polls today to put Putin back into the presidency.
Opponents said the voting was heavily skewed to help the former KGB spy return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister and vowed to step up three months of protests against him. Some voters said they were forced to vote for him.
But Putin's victory was not in doubt in voting from the Pacific coast to western borders with the European Union, and from the Arctic north to the frontier with China.
The man credited by many Russians with rebuilding the country's strong image and overseeing an economic boom in his 2000-08 presidency hoped to win outright in the first round and portray this as a strong mandate for six more years in power.
"I think the elections will be legitimate, fair, and Putin will win in the first round, unless the court rules otherwise," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was shown saying confidently on Internet and cable television channel TV Dozhd.
Early signs were that turnout would be high. Officials said more almost 48 percent of voters had cast their ballots by 3 p.m. Moscow time (1100 GMT), more than at this stage in the 2008 vote that elected Putin's ally, Dmitry Medvedev, to the Kremlin.
Some voters expressed anger at being offered no real choice in a vote pitting Putin against four weaker candidates - communist Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, former parliamentary speaker Sergei Mironov and billionaire metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov.
Others said Putin, 59, who has portrayed himself as a man of action and guardian of stability, was the tough national leader the world's biggest country and energy producer needed.
Medvedev has already inked a deal with Putin to take the Prime Minister's office, so there is little suspense in who will be Russia's leaders for at least the next 6 years.
Putin has ordered the murder of journalists, the imprisonment of activists on trumped up charges, and the stifling of any dissent against his rule.
Scholars will argue whether Putin is a dictator or not. It hardly matters. There is very little freedom in Russia and that seems to suit the majority just fine.