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The relentless electoral mechanics of Vladimir Putin

Photo: Stringer Agence France-Presse A giant screen broadcasting live images from polling stations across Russia was installed at the headquarters of the country's Central Election Commission in Moscow on the first day of voting in the presidential election.

Fabien Deglise

March 16, 2024

  • Europe

The Russian presidential election, which takes place between March 15 and 17 this year, is preparing to confirm only one certainty: the strong man of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, will emerge the big winner of this “theatrical ballot” fabricated on “democratic rhetoric” to better support its “anti-democratic intentions”, in the words of Russologist Angela Stent, author of the essay Putin's World (Putin's world).

A perfectly oiled and relentless mechanism that the dictator has been refining for more than two decades and which should be brought to its climax once again in 2024 to keep him in power for a long time to come. Decryption.

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This text is published via our Perspectives section.

Fraud at the ballot box

The September 2021 legislative election in Russia did not only confirm the domination of Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, over the Duma, the lower house of the Russian legislative power. He then won 324 of the 450 seats at stake.

The vote was also marked by numerous irregularities and manipulation of the results, mathematically highlighted by Golos group researchers Dmitry Kobak and Sergey Shpilkin. In the end, according to them, the stratagem would have produced an abnormally high participation rate and increased the vote cast in favor of Kremlin-paid candidates by 20 points, all thanks to 14 million ballots deemed fraudulent.

80% This is the proportion of votes in favor of Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin predicts during the presidential election which takes place in Russia until Sunday.

“Russian elections are not designed to give citizens free choice between different candidates representing diverse political opinions, summarizes Brian Taylor, Russia specialist, joined by Le Assignment at Syracuse University, New York. Above all, they serve to remind everyone, elites and masses alike, that there is no replacement option for Putin, and this, without skimping on the means to get there.

The day after the previous elections, the broadcast of images of voters being driven by particularly well-organized drivers from one polling station to another to deposit several ballots largely illustrated the compromise of the electoral process in a country where all the authorities government agencies, including those that should be independent, are subject to the dictates of the Kremlin.

Creative and imaginative, Vladimir Putin's regime is taking steps to maintain illusions: by bringing ballot boxes, protected by intimidating and often armed squads, to private residences, to force the vote of recalcitrants; holding the vote for three days, rather than one, to make it more difficult to monitor; by implementing electronic voting with a servile architecture; by holding elections in the occupied territories of Ukraine, where the authorities are taking advantage of the chaos to invent the figures that Moscow wants to hear…

The pressure is also very strong on state employees, at all levels, and on workers in public companies, forced to vote using significant means of control. All over the country.

“In this autocracy, elections are not just a way of publicly claiming Putin's legitimacy,” said Paul Goode, Chair in Russian Studies at Carleton University, in an interview. They also provide an opportunity to verify the performance of government officials in shaping the vote for Putin, which then has an impact on regional budgets and government appointments. »

A performance for which the Kremlin has already established the measure, moreover: Moscow expects a participation rate exceeding 70%, for 80% of the votes cast in favor of the dictator, in order to exceed the results of 2018. More than two thirds of voters then went to the polls to choose Vladimir Putin in a proportion of 76.7%.

Manipulation of masses

The overwhelming victory of Vladimir Putin should, as in the previous presidential election, be played out while the main person concerned will ultimately have never held a campaign rally or presented an electoral program other than the speech he delivered to the Duma in last February. He attacked the West while promising tax cuts and major investments, worth billions of rubles, to restore Russia to its former greatness.

No need for more for the dictator who, last November, a month before formalizing his candidacy, could boast of a dizzying popularity rating established at 85% by the Levada Center, an institute independent Russian poll and generally considered reliable. In February, 75% of Russians even believed that the country was moving in the right direction, even though for two years it has been placed by Vladimir Putin in an endless war in Ukraine that is said to have killed and injured more than 355,000 of its young citizens, according to the assessment established by the American intelligence services.

But the subject of war, other than in its conquering, liberating and Nazifying narrative imposed by the regime, is far from dominating the electoral environment, cleared, as the election approaches, of its dissident voices. The strongest, that of the opponent Alexeï Navalny, died on February 16 in strange conditions in a penal colony in the Arctic Circle where he was imprisoned.

The man, despite his detention, regularly managed to put his grain of sand into the cogs of the propaganda that the Kremlin deploys to keep voters in a parallel reality, like the one presented since November in the park VDNKh, in the north of Moscow. A national and patriotic exhibition entitled Russiatook place there as the first round of the presidential election approached. By April 12, several million Russians and tourists should have attended this large-scale gathering where stands, highly technological installations and shows promote Russian heritage in all its regions, including those annexed. It is about “showing Russians the true modern Russia, a country of which we can and of which we must be proud”, indicates the communication plan of the exhibition, which is located in the very place where, in 1939, the Stalin regime inaugurated this park to promote the greatness and diversity of the USSR.

With an assured victory for Putin, the presidential vote could suffer from a lack of interest, something the Kremlin seeks to combat without limiting the means. The Estonian site Delfi revealed, a few weeks ago, that the outgoing president had bet big on Sergei Kirienko, the great architect of Putin's domestic policy. The man nicknamed the “viceroy of Donbass” is said to have spent more than a billion dollars to motivate and direct the limited choice of voters towards the dictator in power through the creation and support of content such as films, television series or video games filled with pro-government and anti-Western messages.

On the airwaves of state television, propaganda has been heard for weeks in a message which repeatedly calls on voters by asking them: “Who ensures development ? Who guarantees stability ? Who unites us ? Who do you trust ? » Before imposing a single image, that of the president.

Violence against oppositions

Chance or coincidence ? On Tuesday evening, one of the relatives of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, Leonid Volkov, was attacked with a hammer in front of his home in Vilnius, Lithuania, a gesture signed by the hand of Kremlin, he denounced online, to silence, according to him, the Russian opposition and prevent it from influencing the presidential election this weekend.

The attacker is still running, the investigation continues, but the facts tend to support the theory of the victim – who escaped with a broken arm -, who would be neither the first nor the the last to suffer the violence of the regime aimed at ensuring the persistence of the dictator at the top of the State.

“Putin has spent the last 25 years building a personalist dictatorship in which no alternatives to his power are allowed to emerge to challenge him,” says political scientist Brian Taylor. And this impacts all ballots, which exclude genuine opposition candidates and only allow in those who run against Putin without actually trying to challenge his power and policies. »

The independent Boris Nadezhdine, a critical voice opposed to Vladimir Putin's war of invasion in Ukraine, paid the price in early February when his candidacy was rejected by the Central Electoral Commission. The CEC claimed to have found 15% “erroneous signatures” among those submitted by this discreet veteran of the Russian political scene to support his approach, three times more than the authorized margin of error.

His expulsion contributes to making this presidential election the least pluralist of the Putin years and seals the rejection of any so-called “liberal” opposition in Russia, an opposition that the Kremlin strongman fears even more since 2018. This that year, the presence on the ballot of Pavel Groudinin had diminished his victory, the populism of this leader of the Communist Party having unexpectedly succeeded in taking 10% of the votes away from the outgoing president.

“Vladimir Putin needs a perfectly staged victory that will help demoralize and demobilize opposition to him,” says Russia expert Paul Goode. A production with its three extras: Leonid Sloutski, Vladislav Davankov and Nikolai Kharitonov, the only candidates authorized to have their names appear on the ballot papers, not to cross swords with the dictator during this presidential election, but to support in this further stage in a long political career which is still far from coming to an end.

In 2020, Vladimir Putin passed a constitutional reform which should allow him to remain in the Kremlin until 2036, which would technically make him beat Joseph Stalin's longevity record at the head of the country .

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116