Polls open in Russia as Putin seeks fifth term in office

Polls open in Russia as Putin seeks fifth term in office
A man votes in Russia's presidential election in the country's Jewish Autonomous Oblast. / United Russia Party
By bne IntelliNews March 15, 2024

Polling stations across Russia have opened for the 2024 presidential election, which will almost certainly witness Vladimir Putin extending his rule over the country for another six years, which would make his reign even longer than Stalin's.

The election is being held over a three-day span, on 15–17 March, although some forms of early and postal voting have already started, including in occupied Ukraine. 

The voting process in Russia is controlled by the Central Election Commission (CEC), which has enabled Putin to run against a field of candidates approved by his regime. Although the approved candidates present their own ideas and policies, the CEC's selection process effectively prevents any genuine opposition figure from appearing on the ballot. Consequently, candidates vehemently opposed to Putin have been prohibited from participating.

The disqualified candidates include Boris Nadezhdin, formerly the sole anti-war candidate in the lineup. Despite amassing considerable support in major urban centres, the CEC ruled that he had not gathered sufficient signatures to qualify for being on the ballot.

The nature of Putin's dictatorship make it difficult to gauge how much support he really has. In addition to the absence of genuine alternatives, Putin is poised to secure a substantial majority of the votes owing to a meticulously controlled information environment and preferential treatment by the media, coupled with numerous irregularities likely during the vote tally, such as ballot stuffing. 

The three men approved for the ballot are Nikolay Kharitonov from the Communist Party, Leonid Slutsky from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), and Vladislav Davankov from the New People Party.

Kharitonov, formerly a prominent opposition figure who finished second to Putin in the 2004 presidential election, has largely faded from the Russian political scene for over a decade. His nomination as a candidate has been criticised by numerous party members as a weak selection, raising concerns that the Communist Party could lose its position as the second most popular party behind Putin’s United Russia. Historically, the party has drawn support from elderly Russians driven by nostalgia for the Soviet Union when casting their votes.

Despite disagreeing with many of Putin’s domestic policies, particularly those concerning agriculture and industry, Kharitonov has not opposed the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Slutsky will be the first new presidential candidate for the LDPR since 2004, replacing the late Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The LDPR is a far-right nationalist party, and often takes more hawkish opinions than Putin as a means to attract Russia’s most radical elements. Slutsky, who does not have significant personal popularity, has positioned himself as Zhirinovsky’s torchbearer, prominently featuring his predecessor's name in nearly all his campaign advertisements. Per his manifesto, the party advocates for a “final and speedy victory” in the ongoing conflict.

Davankov of New People is perceived as the opposition candidate likely to garner support from anti-war Russians. Despite being a relatively obscure figure, he has voiced support for "peace and negotiations" and has abstained from endorsing the Kremlin's most stringent legislation. However, Davankov's campaign has faced criticism for his hesitancy to criticise Putin and other contenders. The state-run pollster WCIOM has predicted that he will come in second place with around 6% of the vote.