Putin and State Media are Scuttling Russia’s 2018 Election

With 149 days until Russia’s 2018 Presidential Election, incumbent Vladimir Putin has yet to announce if he will seek reelection, despite all signs pointing to the reality of his 4th term in office.

With 155 days until the US election in 2016, the two major parties had named their nominees after months of public campaigning had narrowed the field.

While timeline comparisons between US and Russian elections are far from perfect, Putin’s public ambiguity about running for office is nonetheless bizarre. Indicating something more nefarious is in the works than the Russian President being too busy to be concerned with the longevity of his administration.

Damien Sharkov, writing for Newsweek, explains President Vladimir Putin is already sure of his reelection, and now is shortening the time he has to masquerade around Russia campaigning. Specifically, Sharkov states Putin is avoiding exposing himself to critique and having to make promises on issues of domestic policy.

Speaking to the Russian news outlet, RIA Novosti, Putin stated, “As soon as we announce the election campaign, everyone stops working, I know this firsthand.”

When Putin was “not working” in 2012 and attempting to retake the presidency after serving as Prime Minister, he wrote several articles in Russia’s largest state-funded newspapers. According to American Media company, Daily Beast, Putin described “a surprisingly liberal agenda,” which to some, signaled significant changes on the horizon for Russia. However, after Putin retook the office he held from 2000–2008, Russia maintained its status quo; revealing his writings to be nothing more than political theater.

In fact, most of the 2012 election is widely accepted to have been nothing more than a stage production. According to Freedom House, Putin hand selected rival candidates, received overwhelmingly favorable coverage from the state media, and benefited from deviant voting procedures. Consequently, Putin captured 63.6% of the popular vote, obliterating the competition and finishing a full 46 percentage points ahead of the second highest vote-getter. The landslide victory left Russian voters frustrated, and as many as 15,000 protesters took to the streets of Moscow after the election to voice their anger.

Indeed, signs are already pointing to similar duplicitous practices occurring in 2018. Thus far, there is only candidate eligible to receive votes in the election, the Liberal Democratic Party’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Described as inanely nationalist, Zhirinovsky has run for President five times, capturing only 6% of the popular vote in 2012. On October 18th, the Guardian reported on a second candidate, the daughter of Vladimir Putin’s “political mentor,” who will be running in 2018 as a protest candidate.

With weak competition in place and 87% of Russians already having some degree of confidence in the President, to Putin, running through the motions of a predetermined election may seem unnecessarily troublesome. Especially when the state-media can campaign for him.

Macron and Putin meeting at the Versailles Palace

When the Russian newspaper, Kommersant, learned the Kremlin is scheduling plans for French President Emmanuel Macron to meet with Putin after the election, no major news outlets were concerned about how boisterous Moscow has been about Putin returning to office. Even when at the same time, RT, the American-based, Kremlin-funded news agency, is running stories about concerns over the US attempting to swing the Russian election — implying there is anything democratic about the election which would leave it vulnerable.

In an election which was moved to celebrate the anniversary of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the race is over before it ever began, which only serves to further strip Russians of the little political voice they have.