Home News ‘Do I vote? Hell no’: Russia heads to predictable presidential election | Elections News

‘Do I vote? Hell no’: Russia heads to predictable presidential election | Elections News

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‘Do I vote? Hell no’: Russia heads to predictable presidential election | Elections News

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On Friday, Russians will head to the polls to cast their ballots in a presidential election that has an all but certain outcome.

Incumbent President Vladimir Putin is widely predicted to win a fifth term.

Assuming he serves the full six years until 2030, if taken together with his time as prime minister from 2008 to 2012, he would become the longest-reigning Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.

But formally, at least, he is pitted against three other presidential hopefuls: Leonid Slutsky of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladislav Davankov of the centre-right New People, and Nikolai Kharitonov of the Communist Party.

“I’m voting for Putin because I trust him,” 69-year-old Tatyana, from Moscow, told Al Jazeera.

“He is very educated and sees the world globally, unlike the leaders of other countries. I support the direction of development of our country under the leadership of Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] because we see no other way. Once upon a time, I don’t remember when, I voted for [Boris] Yeltsin.”

As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues, Tatyana believes Western powers are at fault.

“In recent years, the West has demonised Russia, and it was clear even to me that we were being prepared for slaughter. And if you look at the world map in 2020, you will see how NATO bases have surrounded our country. 1+1=2!!! The mosaic has come together,” she said.

According to the latest figures from the independent Levada polling agency in February, 86 percent of Russians approve of Putin’s presidency and his running of the country.

Although the reliability of collecting such data in states such as Russia, with a hardline leader, has been questioned, Putin still undeniably enjoys support and his victory is considered a given.

That, together with allegations of vote rigging and the careful vetting of candidates, has left many opposition-minded Russians thinking: Why bother?

Even so, some Russians are planning protest votes while others won’t be casting a ballot at all.

“Do I vote? Hell no,” said 33-year-old Viktor from St Petersburg. “It’s not like a hard stance, I just don’t bother. The thing with Russian political thinking, if you’re against Putin, is that it’s heavily infected with moralism. Like you must vote, just because you don’t have any other ways to express your indignation.”

He believes that “such imperatives don’t have any firm ground beneath”.

“I just forgot about elections at all,” added a friend of Viktor’s.

Few of the Russians Al Jazeera interviewed appeared particularly passionate, one way or the other.

“I think this is because the result is predictable,” said 70-year-old Valentina, an academic from St Petersburg. Neither she nor her husband have yet decided whether they’re going to vote.

“I don’t remember elections anywhere in the world with an element of surprise. Perhaps there will be an illusion of surprise.”

But 33-year-old Alexey, also from St Petersburg, is determined to fulfil his civic duty.

“Yes, that’s right, I plan to vote,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I’m choosing between coming and ruining the ballot, or not voting for Putin,” said Alexey, requested to be identified only by his first name.

He derided the other candidates on the ballot, “but if you had to choose one, then the least cannibalistic one is [Vladislav] Davankov”, he said. “He at least supported [Boris] Nadezhdin. He’s not that conservative. It seems to me that he is against the war [in Ukraine], he’s just afraid to talk about it at this time. In a situation of normal competitive politics, I would not choose him. If Nadezhdin had been allowed to participate in these elections, I would have voted for him.”

Boris Nadezhdin took a cautiously open antiwar stance, still referring to it by the official euphemism of “special military operation”. By February, he amassed the 100,000 signatures required to run for the presidency.

Neither Nadezhdin nor another dovish hopeful, Yekaterina Duntsova, were considered serious challengers to Putin, but rather a way of letting antiwar Russians express their frustration.

But both were disqualified by the central election committee, leaving Davankov as the least hawkish candidate.

In January, Davankov signed for and supported Nadezhdin’s candidacy, despite disagreements on some issues.

While not running on an openly peacenik platform, Davankov has called for negotiations with Ukraine while being highly critical of both wartime censorship, and what he termed “cancel culture”.

Otherwise, Davankov is best known as the lawmaker behind the bill banning sex change surgery in Russia.

“Any other result other than a VVP victory is impossible, this is fantasy,” Alexey continued, referring to Putin.

“I’m going to vote just to clear my conscience – this is the last opportunity to protest in Russia without the obvious danger of getting arrested. In general, I think that it is important to go to elections, even if they never decide anything in Russia. I also often listened to [Alexey] Navalny’s Smart Voting advice, in both regional and Duma [parliamentary] elections.”

The late Kremlin opponent Alexey Navalny, who died mid-February at a penal colony, and his team came up with the concept of Smart Voting in 2018. The idea was to vote tactically for any candidate, of any party, with the best chance of beating Putin’s United Russia party in any local or regional election, with the aim to weaken Putin’s grip over lawmakers.

The strategy was criticised for endorsing candidates who are not members of United Russia but are de facto aligned with the Kremlin, the so-called “systemic opposition”.

The Communist Party benefitted most from Navalny supporters. Although the party leadership often broadly aligns with the Kremlin and has rallied behind Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it has also historically organised protests against election results.

“Most often I voted for the Communists, because they have the greatest opportunity to rally the protest electorate around themselves,” continued Alexey.

“I will say right away that the form that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation takes in Russia is of course not socialism or communism, but there are some reasonable people within the party.”

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