Vladimir Putin won his fourth six-year term as president during Russia’s election on March 18. He won with nearly 77 percent of the vote in a race that included quite a few minor candidates. He beat his nearest opponent by more than 60 points. The results of the election do not surprise observers since Putin has systematically removed any real competition by arrests or even murder during his time in power. Putin has served as Russia’s prime minister or president since 1999.
Despite what was claimed by Russia’s Central Election Commission as one of the cleanest elections in Russia’s history, there still was widespread reporting of ballot stuffing and voting irregularities. So much in fact, that the results from several voting locations had to be annulled. Closed circuit television camera feed showed poll workers blatantly stuffing ballot boxes at several voting stations. The Reuters news agency managed to photograph 17 people voting at more than one polling station. Many appeared to be state employees. The voters were transported to the polling stations on buses that were labeled with state-provided services.
The Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the elections lacked transparency and competition. The situation was aided by the lack of media freedom and freedom of expression encouraging self-censorship. In the OSCE report, it said, “Restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”
Most western leaders have avoided congratulating Putin on his perceived election victory. Indeed, western reaction to his victory has been mute. Relations have been strained recently with the attempted assassination of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and the tit for tat expulsion of diplomats. Even though he was advised against doing so by his advisers, Donald Trump congratulated Putin on his “victory.” Trump was criticized by his own party members for his gesture. Senator John McCain said, “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
Putin has said he is considering making changes to his government. Among those changes is the post of prime minister. Dmitry Medvedev has held that post since he and Putin changed positions in 2012.