Russia elections: Critics claim Kremlin offering iPhone, Dyson products to lure voters

The Kremlin has embarked on a campaign to ensure 'never-before-seen' turnout

Russia Election Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with residents following a visit to the Solnechniy Dar greenhouse complex outside Stavropol, Russia | AP

Voting has begun in Russia for Presidential elections which will see ballots being cast for three days from March 15 to 17 across the country's 11 time zones. 

Polling stations opened in the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia's easternmost region, at 8 am local time on Friday and will finally close in the westernmost Kaliningrad enclave at 8 pm on Sunday. However, there is little doubt over who the next President will be as incumbent Vladimir Putin is largely expected to secure a fifth term as leader. 

Interestingly, the voting is also held in the newly annexed regions of Ukraine. Russians also can vote online, the first time the option has been used in a presidential contest and over 200,000 people in Moscow reportedly made use of the facility. There are also provisions to vote in all countries where Russia has diplomatic missions, including in India.

Moscow has said that expatriate Russians will also be able to vote in March's presidential election even if they live in "unfriendly" countries that have imposed sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

The election comes as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its third year with Kremlin making substantial advantages on the battlefield. The country had also witnessed protests against Putin's regime over the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the subsequent crackdown.

Critics call the elections a sham, considering that there isn't a powerful opposition for the President, besides the absence of an Independent watchdog to monitor the elections. "The elections in Russia as a whole are a sham. The Kremlin controls who’s on the ballot. The Kremlin controls how they can campaign. To say nothing of being able to control every aspect of the voting and the vote-counting process," Sam Greene, director for Democratic Resilience at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, told the Associated Press.

Critics also allege that the Kremlin is keen on luring young voters to ensure an increased voter turnout, thereby putting pressure on students, graduate students and young workers to vote. "The presidential administration demands that regional leaders step up their efforts to attract more loyal people to vote. They are specifically drawing attention to students and young professionals. We are complying," The Moscow Times, an independent website covering Russia, quoted a Moscow City Hall official.

The report added that the Kremlin wants to achieve "impressive numbers" that will serve as a signal to the West of Putin's "indestructibility" and total domestic support. "The end goal is to make the West understand that our young people are for Putin, not for runaway oppositionists and certainly not for [Alexei] Navalny," the Russian government official told the website. "Well, and to make the boss himself [Putin] feel pleased."

To ensure on historic, "never-before-seen" turnout, the Kremlin had embarked on an extensive campaign to get citizens to vote that includes pressure tactics as well as freebies. There are allegations that officials are trying to attract residents to polling stations with free lunches, concert tickets and raffles for prizes ranging from bags of sugar to a new car. 

It added that the residents of the Altai region are being offered the chance to win brand-new sanctioned goods such as an iPhone 15 and Dyson hairstyling devices. Other prizes up for grabs include motorcycles, apartments, and Chinese smartphones and free food.

To win one of the prizes, voters are to take part in an election day trivia quiz where they will have to answer a series of questions about the region’s history. "You can literally answer all the quiz questions incorrectly and still win a prize. It is all random," The Moscow Times quoted a local news outlet.


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