NewsRussia's pivotal elections extend as Putin aims for power till 2036

Russia's pivotal elections extend as Putin aims for power till 2036

Putin may rule until 2036. Voting is underway in Russia.
Putin may rule until 2036. Voting is underway in Russia.
2:04 PM EDT, March 16, 2024

Saturday marks the second day of the presidential elections in Russia. This three-day voting process follows constitutional amendments that eliminated the presidential term limit, paving the way for Vladimir Putin's extended presidency.

The constitutional changes, initiated by Putin in the summer of 2020, cleared the path for him by resetting the count of presidential terms at the time of the amendments. These alterations made it unmistakably clear that their purpose was to enable Putin, who has been in power since 2012 across two six-year terms, to extend his rule beyond the original limit. His second term was slated to end in 2024 according to the previous constitution.

This adjustment means that Putin, following these formal changes, could potentially remain in power until at least 2036, by which time he would be 84 years old. His leadership commenced in 2000 when he was named successor by Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin.

Putin's previous tenure as Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012 is often seen as a strategic move that skirted the constitutional term limits without outright violating them.

The voting process for the presidential elections, like the constitutional amendments, spans three days. This method was initially adopted in 2020 under the guise of mitigating epidemic risks. Although early voting was previously available in Russia, it attracted a mere 1% of voters.

The 2020 elections also saw an expansion in the ability to vote outside traditional polling places. These practices were replicated during the 2021 parliamentary elections. Extending the voting period and relocating it outside of polling stations has diminished social oversight and observational capabilities, creating ample opportunities for voting irregularities, particularly through electronic voting (DEG). Independent sources like "Novaya Gazeta.Europe" allege that DEG has facilitated vote-rigging since its inception in Moscow in 2019.

The ballot features Putin and three nominal adversaries

The ballot lists Putin alongside his official competitors: Nikolai Kharitonov, Vladislav Davankov, and Leonid Slutsky.

As reported by the Russian BBC, Putin has been under an International Criminal Court warrant since 2023 related to the deportations of Ukrainian children, a war crime.

Kharitonov is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation's (CPRF) candidate, Slutsky represents the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), previously led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Davankov is a member of the New People party, also serving as the parliament's vice-chairman. Nevertheless, the parties represented in the Russian parliament are not truly in opposition; they consistently align with Kremlin policies.

The Kremlin strategizes for a landslide victory with high voter turnout

According to Meduza, an independent news outlet, Kremlin insiders revealed in March 2024 that the regime aims for Putin to secure over 80% of the vote amid a 70 to 80 per cent voter turnout. This ambition will reportedly be achieved by mobilizing state-dependent voters, including employees from government-funded organizations, state-owned enterprises, and businesses loyal to the government, who are under pressure to vote and encourage others to do the same.

This strategy, involving the "budget sector" mobilization, multi-day voting, and DEG, is intended by the Kremlin to suppress any opposition efforts, Meduza added.

Yulia Navalnaya advocates for an election boycott in Russia

Yulia Navalnaya's call for boycott holds significant weight. As the widow of Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's formidable political challenger who died in a penal colony, she urges Russians to demonstrate at polling stations on March 17 as a protest against the Kremlin. She believes a substantial turnout could underscore the size of the opposition.

Navalny was a unique figure in the opposition, capable of organizing large-scale protests under anti-corruption themes and conducting strategies that diluted the United Russia party's electoral strength. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, independent media outlets and dissenting voices have been silenced or forced into exile.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the election-monitoring Golos movement, has been detained since August 2023.

In light of these events, Yulia Navalnaya, who has become politically active after her husband's demise, penned an article in the "Washington Post" urging the West not to recognize the election results set for March 17. A similar plea was made by imprisoned opposition activist and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza from a Siberian jail, serving a 25-year sentence for alleged "treason".

Observations of voting day anomalies across Russia

On election day, polling stations are accessible from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (local time), with locations across Russia opening and closing in accordance with the country's vast time zones. Some regions even conducted what's termed "advance voting" in territories of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

Various voting discrepancies were reported nationwide, with incidents like a Molotov cocktail attack in Saint Petersburg and a voting booth fire in Moscow. Arrests ensued following these events.

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