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15 Mar, 2024 11:25

‘This time the campaign has had a referendum-like nature’: Your guide to Russia’s 2024 Presidential Election

Everything you need to know as Russians head to the polls to elect their leader
‘This time the campaign has had a referendum-like nature’: Your guide to Russia’s 2024 Presidential Election

Voting in Russia’s 2024 presidential election opened on Friday and will continue until Sunday. In many ways it will be a unique event in the country’s history.

It is the first presidential vote to take place since the constitution was updated, in 2020. This 'zeroed' the previous terms of the current head of state, Vladimir Putin, allowing him to participate for a fifth time. It is also the first presidential election in which voting will take place over three days, not only at polling stations, but also online. Moreover, it is the first election in which the residents of four new Russian regions will participate – Kherson and Zaporozhye, and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Here, we break down everything you need to know about the vote, from the candidates and the procedure to the predicted results. 

Lower-key campaigns than usual 

It is not the first time that Russia has held a presidential vote during an active conflict; the elections of 1996 and 2000, the latter of which saw Putin elected president for the first time, took place during the wars in Chechnya. Nevertheless, the scale of the current conflict with Ukraine cannot be compared to what happened in the 1990s; the military engagement in the North Caucasus was an internal Russian affair and was more of an anti-terrorist operation.

Perhaps for this reason, campaigning ahead of the current election was somewhat low-key. One of the main points of contention was how many signatures opposition politicians could gather, and which of them would be registered by the Central Election Commission (CEC). Some hopefuls, such as Irina Sviridova (a young mother from Tambov), and Vladivostok-born environmental activist Anatoly Batashev, failed to collect the required number of signatures, while the documents of others, such as prominent liberal Boris Nadezhdin and Siberian communist Sergey Malenkovich, contained too many errors and failed to meet the CEC’s requirements, meaning their registration was rejected. Others such as ultra-conservative Sergey Baburin or Russia's chief mason Andrey Bogdanov withdraw their candidacies even before the verification of signatures had begun.

As a result, the only non-major party candidate to meet the CEC’s requirements was Putin. As in 2018, he is running as an independent, with his candidacy supported by three factions: the governing United Russia and the opposition Fair Russia – For Truth and Rodina.

Putin will face three other politicians on the ballot, each of whom is from a parliamentary party, meaning they were not required to collect signatures to be nominated. Two of them are presidential election first-timers, while the other is returning to the fray after two decades. 

Nikolay Kharitonov

The Communist Party’s Nikolay Kharitonov is the only other candidate who has past experience of a presidential campaign. He turned 75 last October, making him the oldest participant in the race. 

RT

Kharitonov is a veteran of Russian politics, and was first elected to parliament in 1990, even before the collapse of the USSR. In the early part of that decade, he was among the founders of the Agrarian Party of Russia, but left in 2007 to join the Communists. In the current State Duma, he heads the committee on the development of the Far East and Arctic.

The biggest surprise of Kharitonov’s candidacy is that he was nominated ahead of long-time Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. The Communists have already bet on Kharitonov before, selecting him as their candidate in the 2004 election, even prior to him officially joining the party. On that occasion he finished second with 13.69% of the vote, behind only Putin.

This time round, Kharitonov’s pre-election program is “We tried capitalism – and we've had enough!” His main proposals include introducing a progressive tax scale, abolishing taxes for low-income citizens, and lowering the retirement age. He has cited China as an example to follow due to its ability to combine elements of capitalism and socialism. Kharitonov advocates Russia’s withdrawal from the WTO, IMF, and other Western-led international organizations. He supports the current government’s position on the Ukraine conflict.

“We don’t scare anyone, but we have what it takes to defend ourselves, our country. We say once again that those who think they can conquer Russia are deeply mistaken,” Kharitonov has declared. 

Leonid Slutsky

When the long-time leader of the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, died in 2022 due to complications caused by Covid-19, his allies faced the question of who would become his successor and represent the country’s oldest party. Indeed, Zhirinovsky had a been a familiar face in Russian presidential elections down the years. It did not surprise many, however, when the LDPR nominated Leonid Slutsky as its new leader.

RT

Slutsky has held various positions throughout his political career, serving as deputy head of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and head of the Russian Peace Fund. He is campaigning for president under the slogans “Zhirinovsky’s legacy lives on” and “Slutsky is always nearby.”

As the head of the parliamentary committee on international relations, Slutsky firmly believes in the policy of greater cooperation with Asian countries, while considering the West to be a threat. He is seen as hawkish in numerous areas, including calling for tighter legislation on ‘foreign agents’ and accelerating the military operation against Ukraine.

Slutsky has echoed the predictions of the late Zhirinovsky, who five years ago declared that Ukraine would lose part of its territory and that several of its regions would join Russia. Slutsky’s campaign program talks about intensifying the military offensive to “finish this conflict with a victory of Russian weaponry.”

Vladislav Davankov

At 40 years old, Vladislav Davankov is the youngest of the four presidential candidates. He represents the New People party, created ahead of the 2021 parliamentary election, where it came fifth. By passing the 5% threshold to gain seats, it disrupted the four-party composition of the State Duma that had been in place for almost 15 years.

RT

Davankov’s political career began with the creation of New People, prior to which he was involved in business and educational programs. In 2021, he became a State Duma deputy and joined the budget and tax committee, as well as the commission for reviewing federal budget expenditures. He also became a State Duma vice chairman under United Russia's Vyacheslav Volodin.

This is the second time Davankov has run for significant office, after he participated in the Moscow mayoral election last year, finishing fourth with 5.34% of the vote. He has promoted liberal views, although his campaign program mainly focuses on economic issues and includes proposals to redistribute tax revenues in favor of provincial cities and regions, expanding benefits for businesses, and conducting a “large economic amnesty.”

Davankov believes Russia cannot be cut off from either the rest of Europe or Asia, and argues that instead of looking for enemies, it is necessary to seek new partners and establish mutually beneficial relationships. Davankov has proposed simplifying the repatriation of Russians and representatives of the other indigenous peoples of Russia, and conducting a review of diplomatic policy.

His program is centered on peace and negotiations, with the caveat “on our terms, not a step back.” At the same time, he insists Western nations are not yet ready for discussions, as many of them view military actions in Ukraine as a lucrative business opportunity.

Vladimir Putin

The current election is the fifth for Russia’s incumbent leader, and it’s entirely possible that it won’t be his last. According to constitutional amendments adopted in 2020, in the event of victory this year, Putin will also be able to run for president again in the 2030 election.

RT

Over the four terms that Putin has been at the helm of the state – added to around five years as Prime Minister – he has come a long way from being an unknown employee of the Soviet security service, about whom Western journalists could only ask “Who is Mr. Putin?”, to becoming a politician of global standing.

Much of Putin’s program for a new term was outlined in his recent address to the Federal Assembly. Among the main tasks facing the country and its leader, Putin cited fighting poverty, supporting families with children, and strengthening Russia’s economic independence – especially in technological and scientific industries. His plan for the next six years includes the development and extensive modernization of the country's infrastructure and tax reforms.

The military is also a central theme. According to Putin, the Ukraine conflict is of existential importance for Russia, and Moscow’s goals must be fully achieved. At the same time, Putin has emphasized that Russia has not ruled out negotiations. In foreign policy, he supports a multipolar world and cooperation with countries that desire it.

Predictions

At the beginning of the week, the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM), the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), and the Institute of Social Marketing (INSOMAR) each presented their forecasts for the results of the vote. According to their overall assessment, turnout will exceed 70% and Putin will win over 80% of the vote. The remaining candidates are closely matched, although Kharitonov is currently predicted to finish second. Experts have put the predicted outcome down to various reasons, including “consolidation around the flag” and a lack of attractive candidates other than Putin.

More specifically, VCIOM predicted that turnout will be 71%; Putin will receive 82% of the vote; Kharitonov, 6%; Davankov, 6% (but slightly less than the communist candidate); Slutsky, 5%; while 1% of voters are expected to spoil their ballots.

According to FOM, the expected turnout is 69.8%, and Putin could garner 80.8% of the vote. Like VCIOM, it forecast tight gaps between the other candidates: Kharitonov is predicted to claim second place with 5.7%, followed by Slutsky (5.6%) and Davankov (4.6%), with 3.3% of voters spoiling their ballots.

INSOMAR issued a similar forecast: turnout will be 71.7%, Putin will receive 80.2% of the vote, Kharitonov – 6.3%, Slutsky – 5.6%, Davankov – 5.1%, and 2.8% will spoil their ballots.

Valery Fedorov, the head of VCIOM, believes that the “key to understanding this campaign is its referendum-like nature.” “It was exactly designed this way. Given that we have had a 'special military operation' for two years and it is unknown how much longer it will last, there couldn’t have been another campaign. Some other countries cancel elections altogether in such situations.” 

The predictions of a resounding win for Putin are to be expected, according to Alexey Chesnakov, head of the Center for Political Conjuncture’s scientific council. He is confident that Putin’s dominance is directly related to social consolidation, indicating a high level of trust in the electoral system. “It can be said that only Vladimir Putin demonstrated leadership qualities. Candidates from the second tier had too strong a connection with parties, which holds them back a bit in presidential elections,” Chesnakov believes. “The intrigue of the elections lies in how regions will behave; voting in new regions that will be electing a president for the first time as part of the Russian Federation is of interest.”

Election procedures and what comes next

For the first time in history, voting in the Russian presidential election is taking place over three days – from Friday to Sunday. Polling stations traditionally operate from 8:00 to 20:00 local time, across the country's eleven such zones. Early voting has already taken place in several remote regions of Russia, with around two million people already having cast their ballots, before Friday.

Remote electronic voting is also taking place for the first time in a Russian presidential election, and is available to residents of 28 regions. According to the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, more than 3 million people have applied to participate in this form of voting. For Russians abroad, 281 polling stations have been organized in 144 countries.

A candidate must receive more than half of the vote to be considered the winner. Otherwise a second round run off will be required. The counting of votes begins immediately after the closing of polling stations in the westernmost part of the country, Kaliningrad Region, which is an hour behind Moscow. 

The period from March 19 to 21 has been allocated to count the votes and assess the results, and from March 21 to 28 to finalize the outcome. In practice, however, this may happen sooner: the Central Election Commission’s protocol on the results of the previous presidential election was signed on March 23, the fifth day after voting ended.

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