Putin’s Indelible Popularity Part II
4: Boycott or criticism of the regime
The opposition thus faced a difficult choice. How could they best express their opposition to the authorities in an election they were doomed to lose? Two main strategies stood out: To call for a boycott or to use the election campaign to reach out with a regime-critical message.
The prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny chose to boycott. After he himself had been refused to stand for election, he went out and urged the average Russian to show his dissatisfaction by staying home on election day.
Ksenija Sobtsjak on the other hand, had a terrible day. She introduced herself as the candidate “against everyone”. In Russian elections, there has previously been the opportunity to tick for not supporting any of the candidates on the ballot. This possibility has been removed, but Sobchak, realizing that she did not have a chance of gaining much support, wanted to give liberal, Western-oriented voters the opportunity to actively vote against the incumbent regime. Sobtsjak ended up with 1.7 percent of the vote and a fourth place in the election.
As usual, the election campaign was dominated by personal focus more than political issues. As in previous elections, it was also marked by Putin not wanting to take part in joint debates with his opponents. Instead, he used the state apparatus and state-controlled media to spread his message of “a strong president – a strong Russia.” Putin was thus allowed to campaign undisturbed in his own half of the field, while the other candidates were most concerned with tackling each other in the opposite half.
5: Why do they vote for Putin?
Putin made a poor choice and ended up with almost 77 percent of the vote. The turnout was around 67 percent, also up from the previous election.
Much of the reason for such a result is simply that in the current situation there is a lack of a credible alternative. None of the opposition candidates have the resources needed to challenge the current regime, partly as a result of the authorities making it very difficult to build a real opposition. Most also represent positions that the average Russian perceives as too extreme.
At the same time, a clear majority of voters prefer Putin to the other candidates. After 18 years in power, Putin represents not only continuity but also stability. For those who remember the 1990s, this was a period of chaos and disintegration. Putin has brought predictability. Wages and pensions are paid, there are goods in the shops and most people have had a much higher standard of living during Putin’s years in power. Experimenting with new political and economic models is considered a risk. For the younger generation, there are many who have not experienced anything other than Putin as Russia’s leader. In other words, they have a hard time imagining that someone else will be able to fill his shoes – and the authorities are actively playing under this picture.
6: What now?
According to the Russian constitution, the president can sit for only two consecutive terms. This means that Putin must in principle resign at the next election in 2024. At the same time, parliament will not hesitate to change the constitution to make it easier for Putin to continue – if he so wishes. Putin currently has the support of a sufficient majority in both houses of parliament to be able to implement this. So far, however, Putin has said he opposes changing the constitution on this point. Thus, it may be open for a change of president in 2024.
According to Itypejob, Putin is today the undisputed leader who balances various interest groups within the political and economic elite. In such systems, it can be difficult to transfer power from one leader to another.
Already during this election campaign, the “2024 question” began to appear. In the time ahead, we will probably see an increasing rivalry between various groups in the circle around Putin who want to promote their candidates for crown prince. Who Putin will eventually appoint as his successor is a matter of great importance, and there is every reason to believe that this question will continue to shape Russian politics during Putin’s fourth term.
Facts about the election:
- The president of Russia is elected for a term of six years. Until 2012, each period was four years. You can serve as president for a maximum of two consecutive terms.
- Previously, Vladimir Putin served as President for three terms (2000–2004, 2004–2008 and 2012–2018). The current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was President for one term (2008–2012).
- Putin was last elected president in 2012 and is now entering his second term in a row. According to the Russian constitution, he can thus not be re-elected in the next presidential election in 2024.
- In the last presidential election, 65 percent voted and Putin ended up with 63.6 percent support.
- Vladimir Putin: 76.7%
- Pavel Grudinin: 11.8%
- Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 5.7%
- Ksenija Sobchak: 1.7%
- Javlinsky Grigory: 1.0%
- Boris Titov: 0.8%
- Max Surajkin: 0.7%
- Sergei Baburin: 0.7%
- Turnout: 67.5%