Russia's high voter turnout: What does it indicate?
Published: Mar 20, 2024 07:16 PM
Vladimir Putin. Photo:AFP

Vladimir Putin. Photo:AFP

According to the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC), Vladimir Putin secured a landslide victory in the country's presidential election with over 87 percent of the vote after all ballots were counted on Monday, marking his reelection with a record number of votes. Before the Russian presidential election, no one doubted that Putin would win. The other candidates, Nikolai Kharitonov nominated by Russia's Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party's Leonid Slutsky, and Vladislav Davankov, representing the New People Party, were unable to compete with Putin in terms of political experience and reputation. The focus of this election was never on whether Putin could be reelected as president, but by how much and the voter turnout.

The voter turnout this year reached 77.4 percent, Russian election officials said. It is the highest level in the five presidential elections Putin has participated in since the 21st century. One of the most important reasons for such a high turnout is that Russia is at a crossroads in deciding the future of the country.

Russia is at a critical period of generational change and establishing future power structure after more than two decades of the Putin era. At the same time, it is under extreme pressure from the West, faced with either taking a step further toward great rejuvenation or stepping back into the deep abyss. 

At this critical moment of national survival and development, the Russian people undoubtedly have a strong desire to vote for a trusted politician and believe that the national leader can lead the country to overcome all difficulties. Therefore, the high voter turnout in this presidential election is not difficult to understand.

However, what was unexpected was Putin's vote share. Putin won 87 percent of the vote, setting a record in a presidential election in Russia's post-Soviet history. The vote share of any of the other three candidates did not even reach 5 percent. How did Putin's victory set a new record this time?

Putin's unexpectedly high vote share can be attributed to a combination of factors both domestically and internationally. From a domestic perspective, the long period of national security and political stability under Putin's presidency since 2000 is highly valued by the Russian people. The Russian people place a much higher value on security and stability than other indicators. After enjoying over two decades of stability, and with the nation facing collective hostility from Western countries, Russians cannot imagine a future without Putin as president. His reelection is truly the will of the people.

Moreover, Putin highly values the opportunity for reelection. Putin took the lead in announcing his candidacy as an independent candidate, with a wide support base but not on a party ticket. Putin's team also formed a campaign headquarters with athletes, actors, doctors, journalists and other professionals serving as co-chairpersons, showcasing popular support.  

Despite having a significant advantage, Putin has made a lot of efforts over the past few months to win the election: holding an annual press conference and live streaming for the first time in a year, spending four hours addressing public concerns; attending the "Russia" exhibition to showcase the current socioeconomic achievements of Russian society; delivering the State of the Nation Address, outlining a comprehensive policy blueprint; and engaging in dialogue with American journalist Tucker Carlson, conveying Russia's position in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Furthermore, the West's view of Russia as an enemy has inadvertently aided Putin's landslide victory. The isolation of Russia from the international community by Europe and the US has undoubtedly stimulated the Russian people's pride and desire for a strong leader, making them more inclined to elect a resolute and unyielding strongman. 

Moreover, Ukraine's sabotage moves during the election, including shelling polling stations and cyber-attacks on the voting system, have aroused a sense of resentment among the Russian people, prompting them to unite even closer around Putin.

These internal and external factors have contributed to Putin's high vote share. The extraordinarily high voter turnout and record-breaking vote share of over 80 percent undoubtedly reinforce the legitimacy of Putin's governance, even if Western countries widely condemn Russia's presidential election. Early Monday, Putin held a press conference, thanking all voters for their support. Putin, who has gained such high trust from the Russian people, has the ability to advance the various tasks he wishes to undertake.

The author is a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn