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Friday, March 23, 2012

Russia’s March 2012 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications

Jim Nichol
Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs

Challenges to Russia’s democratic development have long been of concern to Congress as it has considered the course of U.S.-Russia cooperation. The Obama Administration has been critical of the apparently flawed Russian presidential election which took place on March 4, 2012, but has called for continued engagement with Russia and newly elected President Vladimir Putin on issues of mutual strategic concern. Some in Congress also have criticized the conduct of the election, but have endorsed continued engagement, while others have called for stepping back and reevaluating the Administration’s engagement policy. Congress may consider the implications of another Putin presidency, lagging democratization, and human rights abuses in Russia as it debates possible future foreign assistance and trade legislation and other aspects of U.S.-Russia relations.

Five candidates were able to register for the March 4, 2012, presidential election. Of these, Prime Minister Putin had announced in September 2011 that he intended to switch positions with current President Dmitriy Medvedev, and return to the presidency for a third term. Three of the other four candidates—Communist Party head Gennadiy Zyuganov, Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, and A Just Russia Party head Sergey Mironov—were nominated by parties with seats in the Duma. The remaining candidate, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov, was self-nominated and was required to gather 2 million signatures to register. Other prospective candidates dropped out or were disqualified on technical grounds by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Opposition Yabloko Party head Grigoriy Yavlinskiy was disqualified by the CEC on the grounds that over 5% of the signatures he gathered were invalid. Many critics argued that he was eliminated because he would have been the only bona fide opposition candidate on the ballot. Of the registered candidates running against Putin, all but Prokhorov had run in previous presidential elections and lost badly.

According to the final report of the CEC, Putin won 63.6% of 71.8 million votes cast, somewhat less than the 71.3% he had received in his last presidential election in 2004. In their preliminary report, monitors led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the election was well organized but that there were several problems. Although the report did not state outright that the election was “not free and fair,” some of the monitors at a press conference stated that they had not viewed it as free and fair. According to the report, Prime Minister Putin received an advantage in media coverage, and authorities mobilized local officials and resources to garner support for Putin. The OSCE monitors witnessed irregularities in votecounting in nearly one-third of the 98 polling stations visited and in about 15% of 72 higher-level territorial electoral commissions.

The initial protests after Putin’s election by those who view the electoral process as tainted appeared smaller in size and number than after the Duma election. Authorities approved a protest rally in Pushkin Square in central Moscow on March 5, along with Putin victory rallies elsewhere in the city. After some of the protesters allegedly did not disperse after the time for the rally had elapsed, police forcibly intervened and reportedly detained up to 250 demonstrators, including activist Alexey Navalny, who later was released.

Date of Report: March
14, 2012
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