NEW YORK (March 19, 2018) — On Sunday, March 18, Russian president Vladimir Putin secured a fourth presidential term in a rigged election that was neither free nor fair. The vote lacked true electoral competition, as the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running. Nevertheless, the Kremlin announced that Putin obtained almost 77 percent of the vote with 68 percent turnout, with a wide margin of victory over the second-place candidate, Pavel Grudinin of the Communist Party, who obtained just 12 percent of the vote. Putin has been president since 2000, though he served as prime minister from 2008 to 2012. During that time, he installed Dmitri Medvedev as a puppet chief executive to circumvent the three-term limit mandated by the Russian Constitution on the Russian presidency. This weekend’s election allows him to retain the presidency for another six years, until 2024.
“Russia’s elections are nothing more than a well-rehearsed performance. Once again, Putin banned authentic opponents like Alexei Navalny and allowed only competitors that bolster his own image while posing no real threat: a Communist Party candidate that obtained 12 percent of the vote, and a far-right candidate that obtained 6 percent,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). “Putin’s carefully-chosen opponents allow him to appear as a firm but moderate nationalist leader who competes against radicals on the left and on the right. The truth is that he is a dictator choreographing his electoral wins through sheer repression and stuffing of ballot boxes.”
Independent election monitors were harassed in the lead-up to the vote, and observed multiple irregularities in Sunday’s election. Ballots were found in boxes before polls opened, observers were denied entry into polling stations, webcams monitoring polling stations were obstructed intentionally by objects, and video from a polling station showed officials stuffing ballots boxes. Yet, the head of Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, Ella Pamfilova, claimed there were no serious violations at the polls.
The Kremlin is under pressure to legitimize Putin’s rule as opposition to his regime mounts. Last Friday, 400 people attended HRF’s PutinCon in New York City. The conference gathered Russian pro-democracy activists, Kremlin experts, Putin biographers, law enforcement professionals, historians, foreign policy leaders, and intelligence analysts to tell the story of how Russia is crippled by Putin’s totalitarian rule. Lectures from the conference’s speakers — including Garry Kasparov, Preet Bharara, Amy Knight, and Bill Browder — are available online at PutinCon.com.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.