Untangling the mess of Putin’s re-election: does anyone else stand a chance?

Russians are heading to the polls to vote for their next president over three days, but the elections look rather different from ones in most democratic states. Most commentators agree that Putin will sweep his fifth term, securing his position in power until 2030. From there, he would be able to extend his time serving until at least 2036, which seems a remarkably long time considering he first came to power in 1999. This article will explore who else could potentially challenge Putin, but why it is very unlikely that they will succeed.

Part of the challenge in electing a different president stems from the fact that candidates have to be approved by Russia’s Central Election Commission (the CEC). Then, candidates also must be approved by the Kremlin, which controls their fundraising powers and ensures that they are unlikely to challenge the President. This year, three opposition candidates have been approved: Leonid Slutsky (the Liberal Democratic Party), Vladislav Davankov (the New People Party) and Nikolay Kharitonov (the Communist Party). 

Slutsky, 56, is a senior member of the state Duma and his brand revolves around projecting the idea that he will continue the legacy of the previous quick witted and charming head of the party Zhirinovsky. This is evident through his slogan, ‘Zhirinovsky lives on’ and the fact that in June he appeared at the St Petersburg international economic forum alongside an AI chatbot version of his predecessor. Controversy also arises around Slutsky due to his reputation with women – a sexual harassment scandal saw him accused of sexual assault by four journalists in 2018. Although a Parliamentary commission has exonerated him, many believe this was a whitewash. He is estimated to gain around 5% of the vote, which some take as evidence that the voter is irrelevant in Russian elections as it is very similar to how the party performed in 2018 despite the decline in popularity of the leader.

The next candidate on the list is Vadlisalv Davankov, who at 40 is the youngest on the list. He positions himself as the most liberal of the candidates, with ‘Yes to Changes’ being one of his key campaign slogans. Furthermore, he places high emphasis on personal freedoms, with his manifesto arguing for abolishment of ‘repressive norms’ that ‘persecute dissidents’ and for protection of freedom of the press by guaranteeing immunity for journalists from criminal prosecution. He is also the most in favour of stopping the war with Ukraine, and although he did not mention the country by name, said he would support, ‘Peace and talks. But on our terms and with no roll-back.” However, he is still under US, EU and UK sanctions for his role in violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine. He has further attracted criticism due to his co-authoring of legislation banning gender reassignment surgery, making life even more difficult for LGBT Russians. As a relatively new and young candidate he may come across inexperienced which may put voters off choosing him, and he is only predicted to gain 6% of the vote overall. 

The last candidate on the list is communist Nikolai Kharitono, 75, who has been a member of the state Duma since 1993. Some of his key policies cater largely for older people such as lowering the pension age and raising the pension amount. He also believes in Russia operating as more of an isolated unit economically, maintaining that they should end membership with the WTO and IMF. He supports the war in Ukraine and has also been placed under sanctions due to this by the US, EU and UK. Although he did run for president in 2004, securing 14% of the vote, this time he is expected to secure a much lower figure of around 4%, which may reflect the decline in free and fair elections under Putin. 

All in all, the alternative candidates to Putin do not present a major challenge to him – the ones which would have done are largely in prisons, exile or dead. Putin looks certain to sweep another victory at the polls, and the elections seem to have been held purely to give him more of a claim to legitimacy over Presidency and to give voters a sense of agency despite still evidently lacking free choice.

Image: Derek Law on Flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel