BY HELEN CAIN, UoY Alumna
Since Putin’s re-election, little has changed despite much noise in the West of souring relations. Televisions depict images of Theresa May speaking, voice-overs labelling her statements indirect and attacks on Russia. There is little mention of Skripal as the nation prepares for Orthodox Easter, the biggest religious holiday in the country. The country is instead focused on mourning the fire in the Siberian coal-mining town of Kemerovo that killed 64 people, mostly children, and there is little mention of politics.
The Russian people feel better off under Putin and reassured by his promises of an eighty-year average lifespan and a growing economy. The issues tackled in this election were how to get the electorate to the polling station, how to legitimise the election to the West and not how to get the electorate to choose Putin over his opponents.
Putin was elected for his fourth full term in Presidential Office. Breaking down the figures, this was his most successful electoral win, with 76.69% of the vote. Previously his figures were 53.4% in 2000, 71.9% in 2004, and 63.6% in 2012. For the first round of voting to end with the election of a President, one candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote. Putin has never had to face the second round of elections, and if this full term is completed, he will have held this position for over 20 years. This puts him second only to Stalin in terms of length in office. Putin did breed speculation as to whether he would run in 2018, only confirming that he would a few months prior to the election. There is also speculation as to whether Putin will attempt to rule post-2024. Whilst Putin has abided constitutionally and never served more than two consecutive elected terms previously, the length of the term in office has been extended from four to six years, making his rule significantly longer.
Opinion polls never doubted the incumbent’s re-election if he decided to run. The worry was that if turnout was low, assuming the incumbent’s win, then his mandate for ruling would be lower. This was not the case, with Putin receiving more votes than any other person who has ever run for Russia’s Presidency. This has left political commentators wondering both how and why.
High voting figures were seen in the North Caucasus, as expected. The Medusa Project analysed the figures to see there was a 92% turnout, with 93% of the votes going to Putin. Chechnya also had a high voter turnout, however, the Putin vote in the region was not as high as in the previous election, dropping from 99.8% to 90.7%. In the rest of the country, voter turnout sat close to the average at around 65%.
One potential explanation for this rise in turnout was that it was due to “dead soul purging”, where voters were removed from their local polling station electoral register. However, officials claim this could only occur if the electorate had moved house or moved abroad without completing the official documents required.
Reports have also emerged that schools in St Petersburg were scheduling Parent-Teacher meetings on election day, with the polling station in the next room. Also, there are claims election stations would buy bulk amounts of food so there were local food shortages, and then sell it on the 18th at discounted prices only after the electorate had put in their votes.
This is not to say Putin ran without opposition. The Communist Party have received a clear runner-up position in every Presidential election. The other candidates appear to lead their party through an election with the hope of a growth in popularity on smaller levels in the country, or for exposure. Certainly, Ksenia Sobchak throwing water on Vladimir Zhirinovsky is one of the most spoken about moments of this election’s campaigns. However, the question was not the number of opponents, but the credibility of their campaigns.
Whilst we contrast the opposition fighting, Putin is depicted statesmanlike at official functions in the media. Not only is his exposure widened, but the selection of footage is carefully monitored. When voters received their ballots, it was to no surprise that the box in which to vote Putin was significantly larger than all of the opposition. Not only was it now easier to turn out to vote, but also easier to vote Putin.
Speaking to the Spectator in February, Boris Titov, the candidate for the Party of Growth, candidly avoided the topic of his role in a potential deception to show pluralist democracy. When asked about how he could run against Putin whilst being his business secretary, and carrying on with this role post-election, Titov remarked that we do not know Russia. His party received almost 557 thousand votes. This is less than the amount of invalid or blank votes submitted. Also, 87% of the country’s citizens admitted to not knowing who he was. This appears to make him the perfect candidates for creating the appearance of pluralist democracy without much hope of swaying the vote. However, on this matter, Titov referred to a scene in the American TV drama House, where a politician says to the protagonist “If I wouldn’t have been fighting, the policies of our state would have been completely different”. Indeed, Sobchak conceded that her campaign was to put forward the liberal argument. Perhaps candidates stand to raise issues and to influence policy, and, perhaps, to raise their profile ahead of when Putin finally does stand down.
With a system so different to our own, it is difficult for us to comprehend why candidates run to receive such poor voting results. However, the main difference we cannot comprehend is the history. Living in 90’s Russia was difficult. The economy was in continued decline, with shortages of different commodities changing day by day. Life in Russia now feels secure. The nationalists are largely satisfied, whilst the liberals celebrate the small advancements they see in their nation. There has of course been media intervention and sway, and accusations of ballot stuffing or register purging, as Western media is sure to highlight. But big changes scare the Russian people. For the electorate, society feels to be progressing in the right way. The truth the West do not want to acknowledge is that people vote for Putin, and he has the mandate to govern.