Putin Wins Election for 5th Time: Iron-fisted Rule Created ‘Landslide Victory’

Elections are a democratic institution only when people are guaranteed the freedom of candidacy and voting. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “landslide victory” is nothing more than the product of his long-time iron-fisted rule.

Putin, the incumbent, has now won the presidential election for a total of five times. He garnered well over 80% of the votes, and voter turnout exceeded 70%.

Putin has declared victory, saying the election was the result of people’s trust in him. But how many people believe these figures accurately reflect how eligible voters actually feel?

The three other candidates running against Putin did not have name recognition or experience. They did not debate policies with Putin, nor did they criticize the administration. These candidates probably only acted a part to create the framework of an election.

In fact, anyone who disagreed with the administration was excluded from the election. A former member of the State Duma who opposed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was not allowed to run because of errors that allegedly occurred during the filing process to become a candidate. Anti-government leader Alexei Navalny died mysteriously in prison in February.

If Putin is truly confident that he has the people’s trust, there would be no need for him to drive his political enemies away one after another. Deep down, Putin might have feared that public dissatisfaction would surface through the elections and undermine his iron-fisted rule.

Putin’s win for the fifth time is something he himself orchestrated. The 2020 revision of the Russian Constitution prohibits the president from being elected for a third term but excludes the term of the sitting president from this limit.

This allows Putin to serve two more terms totaling 12 years beginning this year. The parliament and judiciary are also under the influence of the administration, and the two branches of the government cannot be expected to serve as checks and balances over the administration.

Russia introduced a democratic system following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But under Putin’s rule, the separation of the three powers and elections have increasingly become just a formality. The system in which anyone who opposes the administration is persecuted and disadvantaged is reminiscent of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s politics of terror.

Putin has maintained a certain degree of momentum by appealing to the people’s patriotism through his emphasis on a strong Russia that stands up to Western pressure.

The aggression against Ukraine is a symbol of this. Russia forced the residents of Crimea and those living in Ukraine’s four eastern and southern provinces, which Moscow unilaterally declared to have annexed, to vote in the election. This is a clear violation of international law.

Russia under Putin is nothing but a threat to international order and democracy. Japan, the United States and European countries must deepen cooperation and strengthen deterrence against Russia.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2024)