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Russia - Presidential Election

Presidential election in Russia, 14th march 2004

Presidential election in Russia, 14th march 2004

14/03/2004 - Analysis

Just as President Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, (Edinaïa Rossia, ER), made a landslide victory during the general elections on 7th December last, winning 372 seats in the Douma, the lower Chamber in Parliament, i.e. more than two thirds, Russian voters are now being called to ballot on 14th March to elect the President of the Republic.

The candidates



In order for a candidature to be recorded by the Electoral Commission all candidates in the presidential election must present two million voters' signatures in his/her support that have been collated in at least half of the Federation of Russia. Parties' candidates who won more than 5% of the vote in the general elections on 7th December last are exempt from this ruling. This ruling has been deemed practically impossible by the Electoral Commission itself, leading candidates to employ more or less legal methods. Hence in a car factory in Samara workers were offered the chance of going home early in exchange for a signature in favour of Vladimir Putin. Prisoners were also promised reductions in their sentences in exchange for a signature in favour of the President.

Seven figures are officially candidates for the presidential election on 14th March i.e. twice as many as during the previous election:

Vladimir Putin, outgoing President;

Irina Khakamada, former president (with three others) of the Union of the Rightwing (SPS), an independent candidate supported by some members of Open Russia (Otkrytaïa Rossia), a non-governmental organisation founded by Mikhaïl Khodorkovski, the former chairman of IoukosSibneft who is in prison at present - that dedicates itself to youth education and to supporting initiatives in civil society;

Sergueï Glaziev, second in command of Rodina (Mother Country) ;

Ivan Rybkine, president Of Liberal Russia, former president of the Douma and then of the Security Council - a close colleague of businessman Boris Berzovski ;

Sergueï Mironov, president of the Council of the Federation (Senate), an ally to Vladimir Putin and candidate of the Party for Life;

Nikolaï Kharitonov, a 55 year-old agronomist, the Communist Party candidate (PCFR), former member of the Agrarian Party and MP at the Douma since;

Oleg Malychkine, ultra-nationalist candidate of the Liberal Democrat Party (LDPR), body guard to Vladimir Jirinovski, professional boxer and footballer.

After the general elections the president of the Liberal Party (Iabloko), Grigori Iavlinski, the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Jirinovski (Liberal Democrat Party, LDPR) and the leader of the Communist Party Guenadi Ziouganov, announced that they would not stand as candidates in the presidential election (Guenadi Ziouganov and Vladimir Jirinovski have both been candidates in all the presidential elections since 1991). "The present political situation in Russia is such that free, just and truly fought out elections are not possible. It would serve no purpose to take part in elections during which you cannot say what you think nor address the electorate", declared Grigori Iavlinski, announcing his intention to create a major party over the next four years in order to put forward a truly democratic opposition. Boris Nemtsov, President of the Union of the Rightwing (SPS), who also called for a boycott of the election, had maintained that the "democratic parties must not use a fig leaf and cover up a bureaucratic police regime that was simply increasing in strength".

Nevertheless the Communist Party decided to put forward one of its second in command in this election in the shape of Nikolaï Kharitonov. Vladimir Jirinovski's Liberal Democrat Party will be represented by Oleg Malychkine, a professional boxer and footballer, unknown to the public. On 18th December last outgoing president Vladimir Putin announced his candidature and qualified the behaviour of his adversaries as "stupid and damaging". "This might affect the country's normal life and the economy. It is a cowardly position", he declared.

The only woman candidate, Irina Khakamada, did not hesitate from the start of her campaign to accuse Vladimir Putin of having endangered citizens' lives during the hostage crisis in October 2002 at the North East Theatre (a commando of 41 Chechens had held more than 800 people hostage) and during which 130 people died from the gases used by the police forces. "Putin is not a human being. He's a civil servant, he is a bureaucratic system into which you must not enter", she declared. By making these declarations the liberal candidate hope above all to prove that she was not a "Kremlin agent", ie that her candidature was not a false one of opposition to the President. Irina Khakamada, who lost her seat as an MP during the last general elections knows she has no chance of beating Vladimir Putin. "My aim is not to win in the face of Vladimir Putin. It is my goal to rally people together and show that we are going to fight and that they cannot just sweep us out of the way. I am simply trying to create an alternative model to the way that Russia has to be governed". Her candidature is strategic and her goal is a distant one. The liberal candidate would in fact like to create a strong opposition party with the next general elections in mind. "In 2007, a significant opposition party must have emerged. We have to get rid of the labels such as Iabloko and SPS and come forward with a new programme and a new ideology", she maintains.

On 5th February Ivan Rybkine, another candidate disappeared mysteriously in Moscow only to reappear five days later saying that he had been to rest in the Ukraine with friends before then confirming that he had been kidnapped and drugged. The candidate retired to London and announced he would stay there until the election. "My absence from Russia will tell the Russian electorate and the governments of the West more than if I remained", he indicated - he then added "After what happened in Kiev I am convinced that this election is a game without rules and that is over for me before having started. This is why I'll continue my campaign from abroad and then we'll see".

An election that is decided at the outset



Like his party, United Russia, did during the electoral campaign for the general elections on 7th December last, Vladimir Putin excused himself due to an excess of work and voluntarily renounced from using his airtime as a candidate on state TV and radio channels. The president also donated his airtime to his rivals.

Apart from not discussing the war in Chechnya, that Vladimir Putin promised to resolve when he came to power in March 2000, or poverty, the Russians' main concern (slightly more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line) or the extent of corruption in the country (that concerns four Russians in ten), it is the possible extension of Vladimir Putin's reign beyond his two four year mandates that features at the heart of Russian political life. The President says he is opposed to any revision, for the time being, of the Constitution prohibiting him from standing in the next presidential election in 2008. However the Douma (the lower Chamber in Parliament) has accepted to examine shortly the draft law conceived by the MP's of the Ivanovo region (north-east of Moscow suggesting the extension of the presidential mandate from four to seven years. Vladimir Putin has said that he "understands this initiative" by MP's who want to "create more stable conditions for the country and enable the launch of sustainable policies by the President". For his part the vice-president of the Douma, Oleg Morozov (United Russia) believes that such a suggestion just a few weeks before the presidential election was not "ethical". According to an opinion poll undertaken by Vtsiom-A and published on 5th February, 46% of Russians were in favour of a change in the Constitution versus 44% who said they were against it. At the same time a survey by Romir revealed that 54% of the population believe that Vladimir Putin will stay in power beyond 2008.

Since his election as head of State on 26th March 2000 Vladimir Putin has undertaken a policy that has been qualified as "managed democracy" by political analysts. The war in Chechnya has continued, former KGB members have been appointed at all levels in the State and liberal reforms and modernisation of the State have accelerated. In terms of foreign policy, since 11th September 2001 Russia had been drawing closer to Western countries before Vladimir Putin distanced himself by opposing the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq. In addition to this Russia did not appreciate the US intervention in the Georgian crisis following the general elections on 2nd November last. Finally the arrest of Mikhaïl Khodorkovski, former chairman of IoukosSibneft on 25th October last heralded the victory of the Siloviki (strong men), figures from the "armed" administration, such as the police force, the army and the secret services, over the oligarchs, businessmen who built their empires during the privatisations under Boris Yeltsin and who control the most of the country's riches. We should remember that on 23rd December the courts decided to hold Mikhaïl Khodorkovski in prison until 25th March.

According to the latest opinion polls Vladimir Putin is to win 70% of the vote. Sergueï Glaziev for his part would win 4% of the vote, Nikolaï Kharitonov, 1,5% and Irina Khakamada, less than 1%. The only concern in this presidential election is the participation rate that must be over 50% of those registered in order for the election to be declared valid. The boycott of the election by the leaders of the main opposition parties frightened the Kremlin initially as they were forced to encourage the candidature of Vladimir Putin's friends in order to limit the abstention rate and to make the election look like an electoral competition. Finally apart from Sergueï Mironov and Sergueï Glaziev, allies to the President (during the announcement of his candidature Sergueï Mironov went as far as saying that he was standing so that "Vladimir Putin did not feel alone"), four other candidates will be standing in this election.

According to an opinion poll at the beginning of February, 55% of Russians intended to go to vote on 14th March and 71% intended to vote for the outgoing President. However in the eyes of two thirds of the population this presidential election is one that presents "no real competition".

Reminder of the presidential election results on 26th March 2000



Participation rate: 68.74%

Source: Le Courrier des pays de l'Est, n° 1 030, La Russie et les autres pays de la CEI 2001-2002, November-December 2002, Paris, La Documentation française, 2003
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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