As Sunday’s presidential election nears, Vladimir Putin is widely expected to be guaranteed a landslide win in his quest for a fourth term. But reports emerged Saturday that local and state officials have still received orders “from higher-ups” to ensure a strong voter turnout.
The mayor of Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, Yevgeny Roizman, said that local officials and state employees were told by “higher-up” to make sure that presidential voter turnout reaches over 60 percent.
"They are using everything: schools, kindergartens, hospitals — the battle for the turnout is unprecedented," he said.
One doctor who asked to remain anonymous, told The Associated Press that she was forced to fill out a form detailing where she would be casting her ballot and she feared that not showing up at all would endanger her job.
She said if she weren't being pressed to vote, she wouldn’t because she already knows Putin will win.
"What's the point? We already know the outcome. This is just a circus show," she said.
While the outcome is seen as assured, the authorities are investing in get-out-the-vote efforts to ensure a decent turnout across the world's biggest country. A strong showing would bolster Putin's assertion of a strong mandate to lead, and would likely further embolden him domestically and internationally.
A Russian election monitoring group said Saturday it has registered an "alarming" rise in recent days in complaints that employers are forcing or pressuring workers to vote.
Some voters are being bribed in a sense – simply being rewarded for casting ballots.
In Moscow, first-time voters will be given free tickets for pop concerts featuring some of Russia's most popular artists who have campaigned for Putin. For older voters, Moscow health authorities will be offering free cancer screenings at selected polling stations.
In the southern city of Tambov, the state-sponsored Youth Parliament has backed an Instagram competition. Voters who take selfies at polling stations and post them under the designated hashtag will be able to enter a raffle for high-end electronics, including an iPhoneX.
Putin faces seven other challengers but none present a real threat. He solidified this, however, by barring them from campaigning on the final day of the election.
The first polls have already opened in Russia’s Far East regions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.