Putin’s Indelible Popularity Part I
When the landslide was a fact, Vladimir Putin was greeted by a jubilant crowd outside the Kremlin . Putin is accused of leading an authoritarian regime, and the victory in the presidential election did not surprise anyone. Still, there is no doubt that he is a popular man. Why do Russians vote for Putin?
- Was there any question whether Putin would win?
- Why is he so popular?
- Who was trying to challenge him?
- And what happens at the next presidential election?
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Vladimir Putin took over the presidency from Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin had led Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a time that had been very tough for the population. Many Russians were ready for change. Putin has now been in power for more than 18 years. He spent his first period fighting the chaos and disintegration tendencies that had characterized the country under his predecessor. In his second presidency since 2004, the main focus was on economic development, and after an intermission as prime minister, Putin’s third presidency from 2012 has been dominated by conflict with the West and the desire to re-establish Russia as an international power.
The date of this year’s presidential election was not coincidental. According to the election law, the presidential election should have taken place a week earlier, but since March 18 coincided with the fourth anniversary of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the State Duma chose to change the law so that Putin could take advantage of the enthusiasm many Russians still feel over “reunification with Crimea.” . According to Itypeusa, the annexation gave Putin record high support among the Russian population – in the summer of 2014, 88 percent answered that they think Putin did a good job.
2: The insignificant candidates
During his years in power, Putin has succeeded in making the presidential administration the undisputed center of power in Russian politics. Parliament is controlled by the president’s administration through Putin’s loyal party, the United Russia. Even what is initially defined as opposition parties in parliament largely supports the president. Nevertheless, this year Putin chose to run as an independent candidate – and not as a representative of a party. This is how he consolidates the image of himself as a leader who is elevated above party politics.
Although everyone expected Putin to be re-elected, a record number of candidates expressed their interest in running: 70.
Unexpectedly, the vast majority of potential candidates dropped out during the registration process. Among other things, the well-known opposition politician Alexei Navalny was refused to stand because he has a controversial conditional sentence on him. Navalny himself believes that the trial was politically motivated and that the purpose was to exclude him from voting. Had he been allowed to run, Navalny would undoubtedly have been able to make a mark on the election campaign through his media coverage and well-oiled election campaign machinery, even if he had not been a real challenger to Putin.
Other candidates withdrew because they failed to collect the required number of support signatures needed to be officially registered. When the Federal Election Commission announced the final list of candidates, the number was reduced to eight.
Of the parties represented in the Duma, the nationalist LDPR fielded the old trotter Vladimir Zhirinovsky, while the Communist Party chose to rethink: Instead of nominating Gennady Ziuganov, party leader since 1993, they elected the relatively unknown Pavel Grudinin, director of a former collective farm outside Moscow .
The other candidates on the ballot were veteran Grigory Javlinsky of the Liberal Party of Jabloko, businessman Boris Titov, Maksim Surajkin of the Communist Party of Russia, nationalist Sergei Baburin, and last but not least, the only female candidate, Kseniya Sobchak, well-known presenter and daughter of Putin’s political mentor in St. Petersburg.
3: Mobilization to an election without tension
None of the rival candidates was ever close to being able to challenge Putin. In the polls ahead of the election, he had more than ten times as much support as the next on the list.
Since the result was almost given in advance, the election can be considered more as a form of referendum on the current regime. But it was not enough for Putin just to win the election. For the election to show that Putin has broad support in the population, it would be necessary not only with a clear majority, but also a high turnout. Ahead of this year’s election, there were rumors that the presidential administration had set a goal of 70 percent participation with 70 percent support for Putin.
The challenge was thus to get the voters to show up to participate in an election where everyone knew who was going to win. How to counteract voter apathy and increase interest? Among other things, the Kremlin launched a massive campaign on state television channels and social media where voters were encouraged to vote. But they also chose to give some opposition candidates more space in the election campaign than has been usual in recent years. With this, the Kremlin hoped to raise the temperature in the debate, so that interest in the election would increase.