While the results of the presidential election in Russia are expected to be revealed on Sunday March 17, the outcome of the vote leaves little room for doubt. Vladimir Putin is expected to return for a fifth term, until 2030. After the death of Alexeï Navalny and in a context of war in Ukraine, the main question of this election, like the previous ones, lies more in the participation rate. A look back at the circumstances surrounding the Russian elections since Vladimir Putin rose to the head of the Kremlin.

A KGB officer during the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vladimir Putin began his career in politics at the town hall of Saint Petersburg, before his ambition led him to the position of close advisor to former president Boris Yeltsin. Elected for the first time as head of Russia on March 26, 2000, he received 53.4% ​​of the vote, a score that seems almost banal in retrospect. For almost 24 years to the day, the president and former prime minister has ruled Russia with an iron fist.

After the surprise resignation of Boris Yeltsin at the end of 1999, Vladimir Putin assumed the interim presidency until the elections of March 2000. In a context of total instability in Russian society, the former KGB colonel appeared to be the only alternative. of a country in economic distress and whose image remains damaged by the two wars waged in Chechnya in 1994 and 1999.

Building on a first mandate in which he managed to restore a Russian economy that had hitherto been at half mast and drowned in debt, Vladimir Putin obtained a much better score in 2004 than in 2000. He then reached 71% of the votes cast, against 53.4% ​​in the previous presidential election. Already, the campaign was marred by strong suspicions of fraud and corruption. A few weeks before the election, the Russian president had arrested the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly close to Boris Yeltsin and financier of the liberal opposition group Yabloko.

Also read: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s prisoner

The Kremlin had also feared the influence of the color revolutions which were raging in several former Soviet republics, such as in Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution pushed out its then president Viktor Yanukovych. Already, the Russian media had practically ignored the campaign of the other candidates. This lack of political offer presented to the Russians resulted in a “record” abstention rate. Only 64.3% of the population went to the polls, the lowest participation rate known to date.

Putin, as has been the case in almost every other election, had refused to campaign, at least officially. Despite the controversies, the Russian president managed to maintain a very good popularity rating between 2000 and 2004, oscillating between 75 and 80%, according to the independent Russian statistics center Levada.

After two successive terms, Vladimir Putin was forced by the Russian Constitution to cede power in 2008 to Dmitri Medvedev, his former prime minister. The two men exchanged their roles in an election described as “symbolic” by the international press, and the outcome of the votes was in no doubt. With 71.3%, the tandem had achieved a new very high score, a few units from the previous result of 2004. The popularity of Vladimir Putin was still not altered before the blitzkrieg waged by Russia in South Ossetia. It was ultimately during Dmitri Medvedev’s mandate that his popularity dropped among voters, going from just over 80% in 2008 to just over 60% in 2012.

A turning point came at the end of December 2011 during the legislative election and a few months before the presidential election. Indeed, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party obtained a quite modest score of 49% of the vote against the Russian Communist Party, the PCFR, the leading opposition party, which for its part won nearly 20% of the vote. A narrow victory, however, hiding strong disparities. The outlying regions of Dagestan and Chechnya in the Caucasus gave him 91.62% and 99.48% of the votes respectively, percentages which raised suspicions about the circumstances of the votes. In several regions of the country, ballot boxes already full before the polling stations even opened had provoked indignation among voters. A feeling of injustice had taken hold of part of the population. From there, protest leaders emerged from anonymity. This was the case of Alexeï Navalny, then a blogger and entrepreneur, who spoke several times at rallies.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Russian NGO Golos had also reported “frequent” and widespread fraud in the country. Sensing the NGO’s influence growing, the Russian authorities expelled the employees from their Moscow offices. Golos had also identified no less than 4,500 irregularities in the campaign and received 860,000 visits to its site in just three months. The organization revealed that companies were forcing their employees to go to the polls to vote for the “right candidate”. As participation statistics were scrupulously monitored, objectives were set for each region and sectors. In this context, the campaign for the 2012 presidential election began under bad auspices for the United Russia candidate. With the demonstrations, the participation rate was just over 65%, a score almost as low as in 2004.

Voted in the Duma in 2008, then enshrined in the Constitution by Medvedev, the extension of the length of the presidential term from four to six years postpones the re-election of Vladimir Putin to 2018. At its lowest point after the demonstrations surrounding the presidential and legislative elections of 2011 and 2012, the popularity of the Russian president experienced a sharp resurgence during the annexation of Crimea in 2014. At the end of that same year, a rating of almost 90% was even given to him by the Levada center. A wave of popularity on which Vladimir Putin will ride until 2018, the date of a new presidential election won with a score of 77.5%, his highest result so far. Participation remained at a decent rate of 67.5%.

A turning point, however, occurred on July 1, 2020, the date of a constitutional revision granting the right to the Russian president to remain in power until 2036. Vladimir Putin justified this reform by the need to “not get lost in a search for potential successors. Opposition representatives, led by Alexeï Navalny, accused him of guaranteeing “a presidency for life”. A tightening of the pension system and conservative measures were also adopted. This collection of reforms had damaged the popularity of the head of the Kremlin. The approval rate for his policy measured by the Levada center then hovered around 60%. The outbreak of war in Ukraine, however, caused a sudden rebound to reach 80%, a rate almost unchanged for two years.

According to the latest polls, Vladimir Putin’s score in Sunday’s election could be between 80 and 85%, record results. The emotion aroused by the death of Alexeï Navalny should not influence the outcome of the vote, according to many observers, despite calls from his widow Yulia to demonstrate. The participation rate could also be revised upwards, despite the Russians’ disinterest in the elections. Monitoring of line managers in companies should help boost participation scores. A “patriotic pressure” spread in an unprecedented way over three days, which should end up cooling the intentions of those who would like to avoid the vote.