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Russian President Vladimir Putin Is Set To Secure His Fifth Term In March 17 Elections


By Girish Linganna

Present Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to secure his fifth presidential term in the March 17 elections, extending his leadership to over 25 years, the most prolonged tenure since Joseph Stalin's. With the Kremlin managing the electoral process with an iron grip, Putin encounters no significant challengers. His continued presidency comes amid the ongoing two-year conflict in Ukraine and as Russia's economy adjusts to severe sanctions, ensuring that his governance extends at least until 2030.

How can Putin run yet again? Despite previously stating that he would not change the laws to cling to power, Putin did just that in 2020 in order to run for president again. By altering the rules on term limits, he can potentially remain in office for two more terms, extending his time as president until 2036, when he would be 83 years old.

In 2008, after serving two terms as president, Putin had Dmitry Medvedev take over the presidency temporarily to comply with term-limit regulations, but he was still in control as prime minister. This time, however, by modifying the term limits, Putin needs no longer step back from power in such a manner.

Putin is competing against three other candidates. They are from parties that support the Kremlin and are part of the State Duma, which is Russia's Lower Legislative House. The candidates are: (a). Leonid Slutsky from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—a group known for its strong nationalist views. He is not as popular as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who led the party earlier and did not do very well in the last election in 2018. (b). Nikolai Kharitonov from the Communist Party, who used to manage a farm in Soviet times. He ran against Putin before, back in 2004, and ended up getting 14 per cent of the votes. (c). Vladislav Davankov from the New People party, a new political grouping formed in 2020.

Surveys indicate that none of these candidates has more than 5 per cent support from the public. Putin, although supported by the United Russia party, is running as an independent, just as he did in the previous election.

Then, why conduct the polls, at all? Some of Putin's biggest supporters believe he should rule indefinitely without the need for elections. But the Kremlin sees the election process as a way to legitimize Putin's leadership, especially in his interactions with foreign leaders. They aim to orchestrate a convincing victory to showcase Putin's popularity among Russians.

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Putin has not yet reached the extremely high margins of victory seen in other autocratic leaders' elections, but critics claim that much of his support is garnered through coercion of state employees and election fraud. Many Russians, fearing political instability, feel there are no viable alternatives and support Putin because they are familiar with him. The Kremlin prevents any legitimate opposition by suppressing independent voices heavily and controlling the media within the country.

Multiple candidates, including Boris Nadezhdin of the Civic Initiative party, attempted to run for office, with Nadezhdin specifically aiming to stop Russia's involvement in the war in Ukraine and criticizing Putin's decisions. Non-parliamentary party candidates needed to gather a minimum of 100,000 signatures to be eligible and Russian citizens queued in cold to support Nadezhdin's candidacy.

However, the Central Election Commission dismissed his bid, citing a large number of unverified signatures. The Kremlin, initially, considered allowing him to run in the election, but, later, decided against it to avoid the potential for a protest vote. None of the other candidates running against Putin is seen as true opposition.

Russia has not extended an invitation to international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to oversee the election. The OSCE, which determined that the 2018 election did not have real competition, stated in January that it was regrettable that the decline in democratic practices had reached a level where they were unable to physically monitor this year's election.

The Kremlin is bent on portraying Putin's re-election as a sign of widespread Russian backing for the war and unified support for his stance against the US and NATO. Criticism of the war's toll and the destruction it has caused is not tolerated. Additionally, officials downplay the effects of global sanctions and strive to depict life as steadily improving under Putin's leadership.

Despite the shift towards a war economy in Russia, characterized by capital controls and the depletion of reserves to bolster spending and aid businesses, Putin has utilized nostalgia for the Soviet era and imperialistic rhetoric to portray himself as safeguarding Russia's traditional conservative and Orthodox beliefs against a perceived threat from the ‘liberal' West.

The state media extensively report on each of his regional visits, where he meets with workers in defence plants, or at educational and medical facilities, allowing them to bypass restrictions on campaign coverage for specific candidates. Putin does not participate in election debates.

Putin secured an unprecedented 77 per cent of the votes in 2018 and anything below this percentage in the current election may be perceived as a rejection of Russia's leader during a time of war. As the outcome of the election is highly predictable and the campaign lacks excitement, the Kremlin's primary concern is ensuring that voter turnout is at least as high as the 67.5 per cent seen in the previous election.

The recent passing of Alexey Navalny, a prominent Opposition figure in Russia, in an Arctic detention centre at the beginning of the election campaign has reignited tensions with Western countries. Despite the tragedy, it is improbable that it will influence the election results, given the extensive suppression of Russia's Opposition by the Kremlin over the years.

Putin is expected to encounter significant political and military obstacles in his forthcoming term, as the conflict in Ukraine remains deadlocked and diplomatic relations with the US and its allies have deteriorated to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. It is expected that Putin will persist in stirring discord within the European Union to diminish backing for Ukraine and will likely increase cooperation with China and countries in the Global South to bolster Russia's economy.

Putin will closely monitor the US presidential election, particularly as Republican opposition to providing military assistance to Ukraine grows, and Republican nominee Donald Trump has voiced intentions to withdraw support for NATO allies that fail to meet defence spending obligations. (IPA Service)


(The author is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru.)

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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