March 4, 2012 - 14:27 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Russians are voting on Sunday, March 4, to elect a president for the fifth time in the nation’s post-Soviet history, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bidding to return to the Kremlin for the third time, RIA Novosti reports.
Four other candidates, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, A Just Russia Party leader Sergei Mironov and the only independent, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov - are also running in the March 4 vote.
Putin, who was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008 and has been prime minister since then, has led the race but may be forced into a second round if he gets less than 50 percent of the vote in the first.
The winner of the vote will be inaugurated as new president in May and will serve for six years, not four as previously.
The elections are taking place to the backdrop of mass demonstrations that were triggered by allegations of vote fraud at December's parliamentary polls. None of the candidates opposing Putin represent the burgeoning protest movement, although all have - to some extent - expressed sympathy with its demands, which include a rerun of last year's vote.
Election officials said over fifteen percent of voters had cast ballots by 10 am Moscow time (06:00 GMT), an increase on the 8.9 percent by the same time at the 2008 elections, which saw victory for Putin's handpicked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin has ordered web cameras installed at 91,000 of Russia's 96,000 polling stations in an attempt to prevent the elections being marred by more vote fraud allegations.
Webcasts from polling stations are available online and a video wall showing webcasts from polling stations across Russia was also launched on Sunday.
Almost 700 international observers have arrived in Russia to monitor the elections, including from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States Council’s International Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
An unprecedented number of Russian observers - no less than 176,000 - will also be present, including supporters each of the candidates.
Around 110 million people are eligible to vote, of whom 1,813,000 are registered with consulates abroad.
Over 380,000 police officers will ensure order in Russia on Sunday, the Interior Ministry reported.
A total of 36,500 police officers will be on duty in Moscow. Over 6,000 officers have been drafted in from other regions to help deal with protests expected in Moscow and over big cities after the polls.