Nominally, Russia is a democracy. It holds free, competitive, multi-party elections to vote candidates into different branches of the government and guarantees basic freedoms to its people under its constitution. However, ever since Putin attained power in 1999 as Prime Minister then President of Russia, he has centralized Russian politics to create a distinct, highly personalized system of rule in his country to serve his own political agenda.
- Gennady Zyuganov was the nominee of the popular Russian Communist Party, but he had consistently placed second in the last three presidential elections he participated in.
- Vladimir Zhironovsky, a liberal democrat, and Sergey Mironov campaigned on different platforms, but during their tenures in the Duma (Russian Parliament), they consistently voted in favor of Putin’s policies.
- Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the Brooklyn Nets, ran as an independent candidate.
These campaigns, thus, did not actually challenge Putin’s extremely popular incumbency. They supported, instead, Putin’s qualifications to seek a (highly controversial) second stint as President of Russia and win through “fair, multi-candidate democratic means.”* The elections gave Putin’s third term as President an impression of political legitimacy.
*Putin’s 2012 reelection campaign was highly controversial–setting off protests in Russia–because then Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s former deputy Prime Minister, announced the previous year that the two would essentially“swap places.”
Putin for Life?
In 2008, Medvedev passed a law extending the presidential term limit from 4 to 6 years, and Putin has stated that he won’t rule out running again in 2018. A 2015 poll showed that two-thirds of Russian citizens would like to see Putin or his personally proposed successor become president in 2018.