By Nipuli Gajanayake –
“By Choosing our President we choose our future”
An ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle once stated that “man is by nature a political animal”. This famous quotation is still valid and logical when considered the factor of Election. Pre election and post election behaviors of people, political discussions, debates, arguments, demonstrations, early election predictions, and also violations during the period of election in different societies have proven Aristotle’s statement clearly. For an instance, the recently held American presidential election and it related incidents have validated man’s nature as a political animal. However, as was in the US, the time has dawned for Russia to hold its presidential election on the 18th of March 2018. Russian presidential election has become internationally attentive since from the current president; Vladimir Putin announced his candidacy for the presidential run. However, the Russians and international community’s interest towards the Russian presidential election has once again demonstrated the natural inspiration of people for politics.
System of electing the Russian president
The position of the ‘President’ of Russia established in 1991. Therefore, since from the 1991 to 2008 the presidential elections have taken place after every four years. However, in 2008 the former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an amendment to extend the Russian presidential term from four to six years. Followed by the amendment, president Putin who elected from the 2012 presidential election has able to serve six years for the first time.
According to the Article 81 of the Russian Constitution, citizens of the Russian Federation elect president on the basis of universal, equal, direct suffrage by secret ballot. The system of electing the Russian president is comprised with two rounds. The first round is about direct popular vote. If no any candidate received over 50 percent by the first round’s popular vote (absolute majority), the second election round is commencing between two candidates with the most votes. It is taking the duration of three weeks to hold the second round, which is in this time scheduled on April 8, 2018. However, before starts the second round, the selected candidates from the first round must submit a written consent by verifying the participation for the second round. If in case a registered candidate withdraws from his participation for the second round, the Central Election Commission (CEC) decides to replace another registered candidate who obtained more votes accordingly. In this round, a candidate who attains fifty percent or above votes will consider as the elected candidate for the presidential position.
Nominated Candidates and the Central Election Commission (CEC) registration
According to the legal requirements mentioned in the Law on Presidential Elections, a candidate who wishes to participate as a candidate is necessary to meet the legal requirements laid out in the Law on Presidential Elections. In addition, a candidate should be a Russian citizen not younger than 35 years and must have resided in Russia for at least past 10 years. However, holding a dual citizenship, reported criminal record within last four years and violation of electoral law could possibly make a candidate ineligible to receive a nomination for the presidential election. On the other hand, a person who meets all requirements would able to be nominated as independently or by political parties to run for the presidential election.
After the nomination, candidates are able to run their election campaign from December 18. Organizing rallies, meet with the electorate, display billboards, distribution of leaflets, calendars and other handouts are included to the election campaign. Nevertheless, the all the samples of advertisements that cost no more than 100 Rubles apiece are compulsory to present to the CEC.
However, in the campaign of election, it is mandatory for independent candidates who are nominated from parliamentary parties or action groups and candidates from political parties that are not representing the Duma (Russian parliament) to obtain required number of signatures by the citizens. The candidates nominated by the political parties that represented the Duma are exempting from the phase of collecting signatures. Collecting of signatures is a crucial and also decisive for nominated candidates to receive the official registration by the CEC. In other words, the independent candidates have to raise at least 300,000 signatures, while the candidates from parties to achieve 100,000 signatures to get the registration by the CEC. Nonetheless, the allocated time period to receive signatures is also competitive. Those who intended to compete from political parties have been given 25 days to submit their applications with required number of signatures while independent candidates given only 20 days to collect signatures in order to submit their completed applications to the CEC.
CEC oversees all the necessary requirements to approve a candidate for the registration. Once a nominated candidate completes the requirements, the CEC registered such candidate for the presidential run. After that, a nominated candidate’s name will be placed on the ballot paper. However, if the CEC identified any past criminal conviction or violation of the electoral law practised by a nominated candidate, the rejection of the presidential bid is inevitable. Moreover, the rejection of the presidential bid could also take place with the failure of providing the mandatory documents and submission of incomplete applications to the CEC. Likewise, inability to submit the required documents on or before the deadline could also be a reason to be rejected by the CEC. In addition, an independent candidate’s bid could reject when the action group that has nominated a particular candidate is unable to consist with required 500 people. However, the presidential candidacy could be disqualified if a candidate deliberately walks away from the presidential run.
According to the head of the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) Ella Pamfilova, a total of 70 people expressed their willingness to participate for the upcoming Russian presidential election. There are 24 Parties and 46 citizens reported about their nomination. However, it has only eight candidates finally have been registered by the CEC. From the independent nominated candidates, it was only the incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin given the registration. Others have declined as a result of the violations committed during their nomination or restrictions in the eligibility to vote. It is very important to mention that, out of four parties in the Duma, there were only two parties nominated its candidates for the presidential run. Vladimir Zhirinovsky from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and Pavel Grudinin from the Communist party are those two candidates. The rest of the five candidates who have been registered by the CEC are not represented the Duma but represented the opposition parties. Boris Titov from the Party of Growth, Grigory Yavlinsky from the party Yabloko, Ksenia Sobchak from the Civil Initiative, Sergei Baburin from the Russian All People’s Union, and Maxim Suraykin from the Communists of Russia are those opponent competitors.
President Putin as an Independent candidate
The current Russian president Vladimir Putin has announced his candidacy for March’s presidential election on December 6, 2017. The president made this announcement at the Gorky automobile plant (GAZ) in Nizhny Novgorod, while addressing to workers at its 85th anniversary. The upcoming presidential election will be the fourth in president Putin’s political career. He was able to stay in the office of president for two terms from 2000 to 2008, and also served as Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012. However, from the 2012 presidential election Prime Minister Putin was capable enough to win the third term as President.
The current Russian president pronounced that he plans to run for another term not from his party of United Russia but as an independent candidate. President Putin decided the independent candidacy as he certain about unbreakable confident and immense support of its people and different political parties. By answering a reporter’s question about his independent candidacy at an annual press conference, president Putin confirmed his confidence on people and political parties stating that, “this will be a self-proposed candidacy, but I count on support of political forces who share my views on the development of our country and who trust me personally.”  With this decision current president Putin legally obliged to face CEC requirement hurdles to receive the registration in order to place his name on the ballot.
Therefore, on January 5, the incumbent president started to collect necessitated number of 300,000 signatures. In this effort, ‘Volunteers of Victory’: a group that campaigning for the protection of Russian history has supported president Putin to collect signatures from around the country. Specifically, first time in history, it has opened stations to collect signatures in support of Putin in Sevastopol and Simferopol (in Crimea). As mentioned the head of the Crimean regional branch of the Victory Volunteers Elena Odnowa, “People come, want to put his signature, but without a passport it can be done. Many return home for the documents.”  After the given period for collecting signatures, it was the current President who has become first candidate to submit signatures to the CEC. President Putin was able to deliver around 315,000 paper forms with supporters’ signatures to the main office of the Central Election Commission in Moscow.
The speech made by president Putin during a state-of-the-nation address on March 1, highlighted his new political policies in the potential new presidency. He pledged to focus on eradicating poverty, creating of large number of jobs, improving infrastructure, education, healthcare, expansion of workforce productivity, and income of citizens while fabricating a ray of hope in the hearts and minds of citizens. In addition he emphasized on the Russian military capability and new advancements in its nuclear power in order to safeguard its people from intensifying external threats. Finally, President Putin stated at the address that, “Russia has realized its foreign policy and defence potential, but in terms of people’s personal growth we haven’t reached our full abilities. We should do this and we will do this.”
Early voting and Polling stations in foreign countries
Early voting system in Russian presidential election is available due to inability of casting vote by citizens in remote and inaccessible regions in Russia. Nevertheless, Russian citizens working on traveling ships or polar stations have also participated to vote early. Moreover, the citizens who needs to spend in hospitals or pre-trial detention centers on the Election Day (March 18) are also able to vote early. In addition, Russian citizens residing in foreign countries are also provided early vote opportunity. According to the CEC, it has been installed 17 ballot stations in 11 foreign countries. In addition, certain groups of citizens are allowed to vote at 140 stations in 74 countries.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Russian citizens residing abroad will also be able to cast their vote for March 18 presidential election within 378 polling stations in 145 countries worldwide. However, as Maria Zakharova mentioned, the largest number of Russian passport holders are registered in Germany (487,000). Among other countries with the largest number of Russian voters are Moldova (189,000), Israel (146,000), Estonia (114,000), United States (104,000), Abkhazia (89,000), Ukraine (74,000), Kazakhstan (73,000), Belarus (67,000), and Latvia (63,000).
On Sunday, March 18, 2018, a total of 96,000 polling stations will begin to open across the nation for electing its new president. Through the most of early election opinion polls, the incumbent president indicated the highest percentages than the other candidates. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the most of Russian citizen’s preference towards the current president. However it is still an uncertain factor to confirm as it depends on citizen’s preference for a candidate as a leader and also depends on citizen’s understanding about candidate’s political policies. Both conditions of personal preference for a promising leader and personal understanding of political policies could likely to be changed due to several reasons. Educational capacity, class system, and political ideologies can be named as few of reasons. Consequent to this fact, generally the final results of an election could be surprising. However, it is Russians time to choose the future that they wish through voting for the most appropriate leader.
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