Russians will vote for their next president on March 15-17, 2024. In every corner of Russia there is no way to overlook the forthcoming election. Posters calling on Russians to vote have been plastered on billboards, walls and doors around the country. Marked with a “V,” one of the symbols used by Russian troops in Ukraine, the posters proclaim: “Together, we are strong. Let’s vote for Russia!”

While it is 99.9 percent certain that Vladimir Putin will be handed his fifth term in office and thereby remain in power until at least 2030, he has set the organizers a daunting task to satisfy him and, especially, international onlookers so that in terms of turnout and his share of the vote the “numbers are impressive” and will send “a clear signal” to the West (and the Russian people) of Putin’s “indestructibility.”

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The man mainly responsible for that is 61-year-old Sergey Kiriyenko, who has been First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration of Russia for eight years. According to Adam Lenton, a political scientist specializing in Russia, Kiriyenko has been tasked with ensuring that the turnout is at least 70 percent and that Putin must exceed the 76.7 percent share of the vote he got in 2018.

Some commentators consider this to be a greater challenge than it was in the past. According to the independent news site Meduza, voter interest is at a historic low. Current labor shortages are likely to negatively impact on the normal “corporate mobilization” strategies whereby employers not only pressurize staff to vote, but also to enlist friends and family to go to the polls.

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In attempting to compensate for expected scant turnout, the Kremlin is turning to technology to use electronic voting terminals and QR codes, which record a voter’s attendance at the polling station, and to increase pressure on civil servants, state corporate employees, and workers at pro-government private companies to vote.

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Meduza cites an unnamed political strategist with contacts in the oil industry who suggested that “corporate mobilization is going poorly.”

He said “People don’t want [to vote]. The [corporate mobilization] scheme used to work because people wanted to keep their jobs and were afraid to lose them. Now they know there is a labor shortage, so nobody’s going to fire them if they don’t vote.”

He said a common response is “Go f**k yourself? I don’t want to [vote]. What are you going to do about it? Work in my place?”

Russian officials have also been ordered to improve voter turnout among young people by pressuring educational institutes and employers to compel students and young workers to vote.

The Moscow Times was told by an anonymous Moscow City Hall official that the end goal is “to make the West understand that our young people are for Putin, not for runaway oppositionists and certainly not for [Alexei] Navalny.”

College and university administrations have reportedly told students that a failure to vote may adversely impact on their grades. Some colleges have organized to hold the ballot themselves and are installing video surveillance to enforce turnout or oblige students to provide a photo of them casting their vote. In one instance university authorities have demanded that students tell them who they planned to vote for.

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Where coercion doesn’t work, the authorities are using incentives rather than threats to entice young voters to participate by organizing raffles, entertainment and on-site competitions offering prizes such as iPhones and other electronic goodies as well as suggesting that turning out to vote will have a positive impact on their future (read: grades) as they could “find their destiny” at the polling station.

While Russian citizens will cast their votes at the weekend, early voting is already underway in the occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Here there are reports that local inhabitants are being subjected to threats and violence to force them to vote, which Moscow denies.

Images are appearing of members of the electoral commission being escorted door-to-door by armed soldiers who also guard the mobile voting booths that move from street corner to street corner waiting for residents to come under the eyes of a masked Russian soldier.

The candidates

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There are another three candidates besides Putin, who is running as an independent candidate. They are Leonid Slutsky of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party and Vladislav Davankov of the New People party.

Putin

Kharitonov

Slutsky

Davankov

The candidates for Russia’s 2024 presidential election

Anti-war hopeful Boris Nadezhdin, who seemed to have gained sizeable grassroots support recently and another pro-peace hopeful, Yekaterina Duntsova were barred by Russia’s electoral commission because of alleged errors in their endorsement paperwork.

Leonid Slutsky: the 56-year-old head of the far-right nationalist LDPR party has been a member of the State Duma since 2000. He is polling at around 3 percent. He has been involved in several scandals, some sexual in nature, and was sanctioned by the West in 2014 for his support for the annexation of Crimea. He was a member of the Russian delegation for spring 2022 peace talks with Ukraine, he is considered a hawk who has stated that “the main goal of my election program is final and speedy victory [in Ukraine].”

Nikolai Kharitonov: he has been a Communist member of the State Duma since 1993 and also ran for the presidency in 2004, coming second with 13 percent of the vote. At 75 he relies on the elderly electorate and it is little wonder that his campaign platform focuses on lowering the pension age, raising pension payments and boosting support for large families. Kharitonov was also placed under US, EU and UK sanctions after the start of the full-scale invasion. His polling numbers stand at around 4 percent.

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Vladislav Davankov: represents the New People party and is seen as the only candidate who could appeal to anti-war, pro-peace voters. At 40, he is a relatively unknown former businessman and was the deputy chairman of the State Duma since 2021. He has said that he advocates for “peace and negotiations” with Ukraine, “freedom of the press” and normalizing Russia’s relations with Western countries, as well as calling to stop “persecution for dissents” and halt “ideological censorship.”

As a Russian lawmaker Davankov has been under Western sanctions since the start of the full-scale invasion for “violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” even though

he has refrained from backing several restrictive laws, including raising the maximum conscription age to 30 years. He is expected to come in second place with 6 percent of support.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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