Araweelo News Network

A polling station official carries Russian national and Crimea flags in preparation for the 2018 Russian presidential election at a polling station in Simferopol, Crimea, March 17, 2018. (Photo by AP)

Moscow(ANN)-Russians are preparing to vote in the country’s presidential elections as opinion polls have given incumbent President Vladimir Putin a large lead over the opposition.

Authorities said voting will start Sunday in the Russian fareast near Alaska and will wrap up in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.

Polls suggest Putin is poised to win by a large margin. He has seven challengers on the ballot, the most notable of them Ksenia Sobchak, a 36-year-old TV host who has built a reputation by openly criticizing Putin’s policies over the past years.

The eight candidates on Saturday observed the pre-election day of silence.

Putin has seen his approval ratings skyrocketed since the last election in 2012. Many say the surge in the incumbent’s popularity is mainly due to his successful policies toward regional issues, particularly the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

The votes fall on the fourth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with the Russian Federation. The Black Sea peninsula, which is mostly populated by ethnic Russians, decided after a referendum in 2014 to separate from Ukraine, mainly because of the rise of an anti-Russian and pro-Western government in Kiev.

Members of a local election commission install a poster displaying presidential candidates during the preparation of a polling station ahead of Russia’s presidential election, on March 17, 2018 in Simferopol, Crimea. (Photo by AFP)

Putin has also overseen a military operation to assist Syria’s government in its fight against terror. The Russian head of state said when the operation began in late 2015 that Russia had a responsibility to prevent the return of thousands of nationals who had joined terrorist groups in Syria.

Putin has served as president in two four-year terms beginning in 2000. He could win a last six-year term in the current election.

Preparations for the election were marred by reports Saturday suggesting that workers were coerced by employers to vote.

The Central Election Commission said it had received complaints, while its head, Ella Pamfilova, said the body would show a proper response. Pamfilova said no manager had such right to force workers to vote.

Putin, however, urged Russians to “use their right to choose the future for the great Russia that we all love.”

Delivering a speech in the final hours of campaigning on Friday, he said that failure to cast a ballot would mean that “this decisive choice will be made without your opinion taken into account.”