Elections in Russia & complete collapse of democracy

 Voting Without Surprises or Fair Chances

This year, elections are being held in at least 64 countries. Some, like the American ones, are followed with incredible interest by the whole planet; others, like the Indian ones, are the largest democratic vote in history with almost a billion people with the right to vote. However, there are also elections, such as those in the world’s largest country, which are welcomed without a trace of uncertainty – it is almost certain that Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue his nearly quarter-century-long rule of the Russian Federation.

 More than 110 million Russian citizens will go to the polls from March 15 to 17. Despite such many voters, which, statistically, should bring great uncertainty – no uncertainty remains. It is expected that the head of the Kremlin will get another six-year term at the head of the state without any problems, and the only question that remains is whether he will do it with 70 or 80 percent of the votes. 

 It’s anticipated that the leader of the Kremlin will smoothly secure another six-year tenure as the head of the state.

 Legacy of the Communist Establishment

There are many reasons for such a situation. One of the main reasons is that Russia never completed its transformation from a one-party Soviet country to a democracy. Its first President, Boris Yeltsin, came to power during intra-party struggles in the Communist Party, and he used the power and popularity gained during the collapse of the USSR to ensure victory in the first multi-party elections in 1991. Although these were formally democratic, there were no real options, but nor a real change of the Government.

– The collapse of the communist establishment did not mean that the imperial, autocratic Russian tradition had ended. It only means that, next time, it would appear in a different form, with different slogans and different leaders – Dimitri Simes, a Russian-American political analyst, said back in 1992.

 The head of the Kremlin was changed only twice in 33 years.

And it appeared. Not a single election process in Russia led to any change of government. After all, in these 33 years, the head of the Kremlin was changed only twice. The first time Yeltsin decided to retire, and on December 31, 1999, by decree, handed over the presidential powers to Vladimir Putin, a longtime associate and prime minister. The second time was when the constitutional limit of two consecutive four-year mandates forced Putin to let his longtime associate Dmitry Medvedev keep his seat for four years, from 2008 to 2012. Although during that time he continued to lead the country, but with the title of Prime Minister, after a break from the presidency, he abolished the constitutional limit, and the terms of office were extended to six years. With the possibility of remaining in power until 2036.

 A Ban on True Opposition 

 Another reason why Russian presidential elections are among the most certain on the planet is that the real opposition is almost never allowed to take part in them. Anyone who criticizes Vladimir Putin and his rule will encounter an obstacle – the Central Election Commission. It doesn’t matter if the candidate is popular or not, if he is seen as a threat to the Kremlin chief’s march to a glorious and resounding victory, no matter how small, the Commission will find some bureaucratic reason to cut the candidacy off the ground. For almost two and a half decades, the list of those whose candidacy was rejected is larger than the list of those whose candidacy was approved. And there are all sorts of people there, from Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Bukovsky to Eduard Limonov and Alexei Navalny.

The fate of the latter is a real warning to anyone who dares to criticize Putin, his regime, and his oligarchs. After he presented evidence of corruption in 2011, politically motivated processes were initiated against Navalny. In 2018 he was banned from running for president, in August 2020 he was poisoned with Novichok, and after he somehow managed to survive the poison, he was sentenced to prison and sent to the “Polar Wolf” penal colony, where he died under unexplained circumstances on February 16, 2024.

The reason Russian presidential elections are among the most predictable globally is due to the near absence of genuine opposition allowed to participate in them.

As before, there were rejected candidacies this year. For example, the independent journalist Yekaterina Duntsova was not even allowed to collect signatures, while the anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin was told that the collected signatures were not valid. All this was followed by arrests and even beatings of activists. Experts say that the practice in the 21st century Russia is that at least one opposition candidate, the one with no chance to win, is left on the ballot. However, that is not the case this time. The reason, according to Jamestown Foundation researchers in their analysis, is that the Government does not want an anti-war candidate to openly criticize the invasion of Ukraine in televised debates and in front of an audience of millions in front of whom it is forbidden to even utter the word ‘war’. 

Minimal Number of Candidates

The number of presidential candidates approved to enter the race during the Putin era varied from year to year. The greatest number was 12 in 2000, and the smallest number happened in 2008 (when Medvedev was a replacement for Vladimir Vladimirovich) and now – only four.

The first on the ballot is Vladislav Davankov (40), a candidate of the New People Party, the second is Vladimir Putin (72), the President of Russia and a formally independent candidate, the third is Leonid Slutsky (56) from the Liberal Democratic Party, and the fourth is Nikolay Kharitonov from the Communist Party.

None of Putin’s opponents are considered the real opposition. Both the Communists and the ultra-nationalist LDP fundamentally support both his leadership and his moves. While one part of the voters’ trust Davankov as the most liberal candidate and his slogans “Yes to change” and “It’s time for new people”, others insist that he emphasizes being in favor of peace talks with Ukraine, “but on our terms”, which is essentially no different from the official messages from the beginning of the “special military operation “.

De Facto Dictatorship and Systemic Fraud

Many believe that the names of the candidates are not that important when the winner is known in advance and when the democratic process went through a complete collapse.

– Vladimir Putin’s re-victory seems inevitable. The goal of the Kremlin, however, is not only to win, but to show a convincing result in terms of turnout and the percentage of votes. The resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted on October 13, 2023, emphasizes that “the unlimited power of the president, which is the result of an extremely long stay in office combined with any control, has turned the Russian Federation into a de facto dictatorship” – according to the March report of the European Parliament Research Service.

The Russian electoral process has long been fraught with issues, including systematic fraud such as ballot tampering, carousel voting, and coercion of state administration employees to secure additional votes.

The electoral process in Russia has remained problematic for a long time – various organizations presented evidence of systematic fraud, adding ballots at the polling stations, the so-called carousel voting in which one voter votes in several places, forcing employees of the state administration to vote as they are told, but also to secure at least 10 additional voters each…

This year, it is particularly problematic that elections will be held in the occupied parts of Ukraine. In the fall of 2022, a referendum was held on the accession of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson to the Russian Federation. This vote was illegal as Ukrainian laws do not provide for the holding of local referendums. Additionally, according to Deutsche Welle, there are doubts about the outcome of the vote as there were no independent observers throughout the process. 

This year’s elections in the occupied regions of Ukraine raise concerns regarding their democratic integrity, especially considering the referendum outcome from 2022, which is doubted due to the absence of independent observers.

Play for the Public: “We need you; Russia needs you“

Just how much everything remains related to the presidential elections in Russia is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that this is the third election cycle in which Vladimir Putin does not announce his candidacy until someone calls him to do so for the good of Russia. Dmitry Medvedev made that invitation to him in 2012; in 2017 he announced the decision at the invitation of workers at the GAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod. This year, it was Colonel Artyom Zhoga at the medals awarding ceremony to the heroes of Russia.

– Mr. President, you have done a lot for Donbass. Thanks to your actions and decisions, we have gained freedom and the right to choose. We want to be part of the election and for you to be the president. We need you; Russia needs you – he said.

– I had different thoughts about this at different times. However, you are right. I will run for president – he answered.

In the end, the only uncertainty remains if Putin will win more or less than 80 percent of the vote.

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