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From Siberia to the Russian-held territories of eastern Ukraine, polls opened on March 15 in an election virtually certain to bring Vladimir Putin back to the presidency.The Associated Press

Russia will hold a presidential election on March 15-17 which President Vladimir Putin is certain to win, barring unexpected developments. That will give the longest serving Kremlin chief since Josef Stalin another six-year term in power. Here’s a primer on how things will play out.

When is Russia’s election? Will voting be held in seized Ukrainian territory?

The election will be held on March 15-17, and is the first time a remote online voting system will be available. Results will follow shortly afterward and the winner will be inaugurated in May.

Voting will also take place in what Russia calls its new territories: parts of Ukraine now controlled by Russian forces which have been placed under Russian law. Ukraine says it will not rest until it has ejected every last Russian soldier from the annexed territories.

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Mobile polling stations drove out through Donetsk on election day as Russia encouraged people in the occupied Ukrainian territory to cast ballots.AFP via Getty Images

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‘The West doesn't need Russia, we need Russia!’ reads an election poster in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Crimean peninsula that Russia illegally annexed in 2014.The Associated Press

What is the expected voter turnout in Russia?

There are 112.3 million people with the right to vote in the election. Another 1.9 million people abroad have the right to vote and 12,000 in Baikonur, a cosmodrome that Russia rents in Kazakhstan.

Around 70 to 80 million people usually cast ballots. Turnout in 2018 was 67.5 per cent.

Who are Putin’s rival candidates?

Mr. Putin is running against Communist Nikolai Kharitonov; Leonid Slutsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party; and Vladislav Davankov of the New People party.

Boris Nadezhdin, an anti-war candidate, was barred from running as was Yekaterina Duntsova.

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Mr. Putin has the shortest bio on this information poster at a Moscow polling station, but Russians need little explanation of his time in power: He has ruled the country in one form or another since 1999.AFP via Getty Images

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Mr. Putin shakes hands with his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, at the Kremlin on the first anniversary of their transition of power.Reuters

How many terms has Putin served? What are the term limits for Russian presidents?

Mr. Putin, 71, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, was appointed acting president by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999. He won the 2000 presidential election with 53.0 per cent of the vote and the 2004 election with 71.3 per cent. In 2008, Dmitry Medvedev ran for president and Putin served as prime minister before winning 63.6 per cent of the vote in the 2012 presidential election and 76.7 per cent in 2018.

Putin has already served as president for longer than any other Russian ruler since Josef Stalin, beating even Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year tenure.

The 1993 Russian constitution, based loosely on France’s 1958 constitution, originally specified that a president could only serve two terms of four years if they were back-to-back. But amendments in 2008 extended the presidential term to six years, while amendments in 2020 formally reset Putin’s own presidential term tally to zero from 2024, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036. The changes also banned ceding any territory.

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No one has ruled Russia for longer than Mr. Putin, except Joseph Stalin, whose portrait hung at this polling station in Volgograd on election day.The Associated Press

Is Russia considered a democracy or a dictatorship?

The West casts Mr. Putin as a war criminal, a killer and a dictator, but opinion polls at home show he has approval ratings of 85 per cent – higher than before the invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin says Mr. Putin enjoys overwhelming support from the Russian people, that Russia does not want to be lectured by the West about democracy. Russian officials say the West is trying to undermine Russia by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

Supporters say Mr. Putin halted the spiral of decline which peaked with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and restored at least some of the clout once held by the general secretaries who ruled the Soviet Union while standing up to what the Kremlin casts as a declining West led by the United States.

Much of the Russian opposition – which ranges from hardline communists to radical nationalists – adheres to the formal rules of the tighty-controlled political system and, despite having seats in parliament, does not oppose the Kremlin on major issues. Pro-Western liberals do have any seats in parliament.

Supporters of late opposition politician Alexey Navalny are either in jail or have fled abroad. Other opponents, like former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, are also living abroad. They cast Mr. Putin as a Mafia-style godfather who has constructed a system of personal rule reliant on corruption. Mr. Putin’s opponents have been predicting since 1999 that turmoil will one day bring down the system he presides over.

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After the death of dissident leader Alexey Navalny earlier this year, his wife took to social media in a video appeal for protests of Russia's elections.Reuters; @yulia_navalnaya on X, formerly Twitter, via AP

Will there be protests against the Russian election? What will Navalny’s supporters do?

Yulia Navalnaya, Mr. Navalny’s widow, has said that the scale of public support for him since his death was proof that his cause lived on, and called for a massive election day protest against Mr. Putin.

Mr. Navalny, in one of his last public messages, had urged people to protest against Putin by voting en masse at noon local time on March 17, forming large crowds and overwhelming polling stations. Ms. Navalnaya took up her husband’s call. “This is a very simple and safe action, it cannot be prohibited, and it will help millions of people see like-minded people and realize that we are not alone,” she said. “We are surrounded by people who are also against war, against corruption and against lawlessness.”

Russian nationalist ex-militia commander Igor Girkin, who was jailed for four years in January, said that the March election would be a “sham” with the winner already clear.

Mr. Girkin, who does not recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state and says much of it is part of Russia, said Russia would face defeat in the war unless it sacked top commanders and began to fight in a much more serious way.

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Around 70 to 80 million people usually cast ballots in Russian elections, such as these servicemen registering in Moscow. But European election monitors will not be present to make sure the result is free and fair.NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images

Are there election monitors in Russia?

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said in January that it was deeply regrettable that Russia had decided not to invite OSCE observers to the election.

“We regret that conditions have deteriorated so much in the Russian Federation that we cannot deploy observers for the presidential election in March,” said Pia Kauma, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. “The very first election observation mission organized by the OSCE PA was to Russia in 1993, and since then we have observed ten national elections in the country. It is very unfortunate that democratic backsliding has reached such a critical point that we cannot be on the ground to observe this year, but we will of course continue to follow the situation closely.”

In 2018, ODIHR said that there were intense efforts to promote turnout and that citizens voted in significant numbers. “Yet restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition,” it said. “While candidates could generally campaign freely, the extensive and uncritical coverage of the incumbent as president in most media resulted in an uneven playing field. Overall, election day was conducted in an orderly manner despite shortcomings related to vote secrecy and transparency of counting.”

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