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Emma Cunningham / Gavel Media

Vladimir Putin Reelected as President of Russia

A Guide to Russian “Elections”

Last week, Vladimir Putin was reelected to the office of President of Russia, a position he has held since 2000 (with a break from 2008-2012, when he was prime minister). The entire government of Russia has received heavy criticism from other nations and international organizations for being corrupt and unfair, and the same problems occur within its election systems. This article will provide an overview of the history of Russian elections, the problems inherent within them, and how Putin has been able to manipulate them so effectively.

Who is Putin himself?

Vladimir Putin was born in St. Petersburg in 1952. He graduated from a Russian law school in 1975 and joined the KGB (the now-dissolved Soviet intelligence agency) the same year. He worked in counterintelligence in Russia and Dresden, but due to the secretive nature of intelligence work, not much is known about his operations.

He began his political career in 1991 working for various mayors of St. Petersburg and Moscow and was appointed acting prime minister in 1999 by then-president Boris Yeltsin. Since becoming prime minister, Putin’s main focus has been described as “maintaining financial stability”. He has eliminated many elected regional positions and replaced them with appointed roles.

Putin has been censured by many human rights watchdogs for writing bills impeding freedom of speech (especially related to criticizing the ongoing war in Ukraine) and passing laws that limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

How are Russia’s elections run?

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the nation separated into its former constituent territories, including what is now the Russian Federation. The electoral process is much like the United States, with any Russian citizen over 35 with a permanent residence in Russia for the last 10 years eligible to run.

All presidents serve six-year terms and cannot serve more than two terms back-to-back (Putin circumvented this by serving as prime minister after his second term). A candidate needs a simple majority of votes to win, unlike the American Electoral system. However, someone who fulfills the above requirements cannot be a candidate or a voter if they are imprisoned or have been previously convicted of “serious” or “extremist” crimes.

While this policy may seem reasonable on the surface, it has prevented activists charged with crimes on false pretenses (such as Alexei Navalny, who died in prison in February) from running or voting, effectively ensuring that any candidate the establishment deems too dangerous can be easily barred from running.

Why are Russia’s elections corrupt?

Since Putin first came into power, the Russian government has denied international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) such as Amnesty International the right to observe their elections. Russian citizen observers are often beaten or harassed while attempting to oversee the voting process.

The committees and parties that run the elections are financed, staffed, and monitored entirely by the party currently holding the presidency, so it is completely possible for no one outside the ruling party to observe the true inner workings of an election. Putin’s government has also been accused of handing out food and cash incentives at voting locations in exchange for votes for him and his party.

The Russian oligarchy, a group of business owners who profited immensely off the privatization of formerly national industries when the Soviet Union dissolved, is aligned with whoever will preserve their wealth, which is currently Putin’s government. As such, they can often mobilize their massive fortunes to aid in carrying out government orders, including the administration of elections.

Even if Putin was massively unpopular among the Russian people, the systems he has put in place all but ensure he will continue to rule until he no longer wants to. Opposition exists, but the government is structured in a way that makes internal resistance nearly impossible. Russian power is locked behind either great wealth, military power, or political power, making democracy the form of government in name only.

 

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