14/03/2004 - Results
As expected Vladimir Putin was re-elected leader of Russia. The outgoing president won 71.2% of the vote (i.e. 18.3% points more than during the last presidential election on 26th March 2000) against 13.8% for his main adversary Nikolaï Kharitonov, the Communist Party candidate (PCFR), an unexpected and worthy although lower result (by 15.4 points) than the one achieved by Guenadi Ziouganov four years previously. Finally the liberal candidate Irina Khakamada obtained 3.9% of the vote and achieved a higher score than forecast in the opinion polls. According to Alexeï Venediktov, editor in chief of the radio station "The Moscow Echo" the outgoing President's re-election may be considered as the "pledge of loyalty by the Russian people to their sovereign".
The abstention rate, which was the only real source of worry on the Kremlin's part, who were certain of their candidate's victory, rose to 35,73%. The Orthodox Church made a wide appeal to their congregations to turn out to vote. "Traditionally the patriarch, our hierarchs and our clergy take part in the elections. Priests call on the congregation to follow their example", declared Father Vsevolod Tchapline, second in command of the External Relations Bureau of the Moscow patriarchate. The president of the Council of Russian Muftis, Ravil Gaïnoudine and the Great Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar followed suite, the latter maintaining that, "man fulfilled his rights by voting but above all he accomplished a divine command". In many regions steps had been taken in order to fight against Russian apathy. Hence in Omsk public transport was free on Election Day. Free concerts were laid on for voters in Sverdlosk; in Iakoutsk, voters were entitled to a reduction of five roubles on their rent or on their electricity bill in March, young people from Sakhaline, Novorossisk and Kaliningrad received free entry to discos, in Doudinka, entry was free to the third part of the film "Lord of the Rings". Across the whole country shops nearby polling stations reduced prices by 20%. Finally on Thursday last the President himself appealed to citizens to go and vote. "Each vote is of major importance", he maintained, "only your support to the future President of Russia will provide him with the confidence of his abilities". He then added, "You are getting used to democratic procedures in the choice of government. But that must not lead to a decline in the importance of these events within the collective conscience. Just try and imagine what would happen in a country where we failed to put in place the highest authorities of power".
To a backdrop of virtue and transparency Vladimir Putin worked for the first four years of his mandate towards putting order back into Russia. His activities aimed mainly at ridding himself of those close to the former regime of Boris Yeltsin as well as the oligarchs - businessmen who had built their empire during the privatizations during Mr. Yeltsin's time in office and who controlled the country's main resources (Mikhaïl Khodorkovski, former chairman of YukosSibneft, arrested on 25th October last year is symbolic of these men) - to establish his own men in all of the positions of power.
Vladimir Putin who was sure of his victory beforehand maintained three days before the election during a speech on TV that the government appointed 15 days ago would remain the same and would not be reshuffled after the presidential election. "This is the team that after the election will immediately and confidently take charge of the country's development and the improvement of the quality of life of our fellow citizens", declared the President. Within the new government Sergueï Ivanov maintains his position as Defence Minister and Sergueï Choïgou that of Minister for Emergency Situations. Rachid Nourgaliev, former member of the secret services has been appointed Home Secretary and Sergueï Lavrov, former Russian Ambassador at the UN is to become the Foreign Affairs Minister. The upkeep of Alexeï Koudrine in Finance and Guerman Gref in Economic Development confirms the President's will to modernize Russia and to make it a more liberal society. Finally Dimitri Kozak, a truly loyal man amongst those loyal to Vladimir Putin takes over government administration and has achieved the rank of Minister.
From now on Vladimir Putin dominates all of the institutions and controls all of Russia's internal workings. The Council of the Federation, the Upper Chamber of Parliament has been neutralized, the Douma (the Lower Chamber) has been devoted to him since the general elections on 7th December last year; any members from the Yeltsin era have now been removed from the secret services and counter-espionage, which are qualified as federal services; the government only includes those faithful to the President and finally the media are all controlled by the Kremlin.
The head of State announced that he would raise taxes on oil companies to increase State funds; one of the priorities of Vladimir Putin's next mandate is to "put a halt to the dilapidation of natural resources and put order back into how they are used". He is also to suggest measures to fight against poverty that affects a quarter of the country's population and which according to opinion polls is the Russians' main source of worry.
If by offering them an image of a powerful and stable Russia Vladimir Putin reassures his fellow citizens, half of whom believe, according to a poll by Romir, that their country needs to be governed by a "strong hand", they do expect however this power and stability to become a reality in their daily lives during the President's second mandate.
Results of the presidential election on 14th March 2004
Participation rate: 64.27 %
Source: Agence France Presse (AFP)