Why Putin Should Not Overestimate His Support

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently won an outstanding victory following the recent election on proposed constitutional reforms. The results could keep him in office until 2036, according to Russia’s electoral commission.

The reforms will reset Putin’s term limit to zero in 2024; enabling him to serve two more six-year terms.

Other measures that voters approved of include: pension and minimum wage increases, a light reorganization of government, a constitutional mention of “faith in God,” a ban on gay marriage, exhortations to preserve Russia’s language and history, and a ban on top officials holding dual citizenship.

The Result May Not Accurately Reflect Putin’s Level of Support

It is more than likely that the measures will be approved by Russia’s Supreme Court and many regional lawmakers support them. This result may seem like an overwhelming approval of the Russian President’s proposed changes, but it is certain that they do not reflect how many Russians feel towards their leader.

Firstly, there was no independent scrutiny of the seven-day election, which means it is difficult to ascertain whether this poll was conducted fairly or not. The coronavirus was used to justify Putin’s decision to spread out the vote over seven days to prevent the risk of infection, but this only made it harder for authorities to monitor the election.

Navalny: Results Represent ‘a Fake and Massive Lie’

Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, who refused to vote, said the results represent “a fake and massive lie.”

Election monitoring NGO Golos argued that the unprecedented vote could not represent the public mood because of its ad hoc design. They would be right to argue that there is evidence to suggest that the election was conducted properly.

The Guardian’s Andrew Roth reported that many people in Moscow received text messages telling them they had been registered to win millions of prizes. The catch was that they could only do so if they voted for Putin’s constitutional amendments.

Companies also authorized their own prize giveaways that could enable them to track employee voting.

Meanwhile, Instagram and TikTok users claimed they had been offered millions of rubles by shady characters to urge their young followers to vote.

Was This Election About Putin?

Billboards that were designed to persuade people to vote failed to stress that the constitutional reforms would allow Putin to rule until 2036. Instead they concentrated on “preserving family values.” Yekaterina Schulmann, a Moscow-based political scientist, suggested this vote was not about providing the Russian President with a fresh mandate, but asking them to decide whether there was a burden on the Kremlin’s political resources.

The coronavirus has played a substantive part in weakening Putin’s approval ratings, which is why it is hard to believe this election’s results are proportionate to the Russian President’s support throughout Russia. Recent polls conducted by Levada-Center have shown that 47 percent of Russians backed their President’s proposed reforms, but Putin’s support fell to 59 percent in April, from 63 percent in March. His lowest approval rating was in September 1999 when he was a rookie prime minister, with only 53 percent of people approving of the job he was doing then. Because opinion polls are conducted among small samples of a country’s population, it is hard to say the Levada-Center’s results are entirely accurate.

Russia Has a Long History of Vote-Rigging

More evidence will probably emerge that the result was rigged as Putin’s regime has a history of falsifying election results. In 2011, 80,000 Russians demonstrated against widespread voter fraud that happened during the parliamentary elections that year. Even former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called on Putin to resign. Such protests failed to prevent the same incident from happening again in the 2012 Russian presidential election.

It would be unwise for Putin to overestimate his personal support as a result of the vote on his constitutional reforms. The coronavirus has damaged people’s faith in his regime and now that he has “won” approval for his measures, he has until 2036 to regain people’s trust following the way he has handled this pandemic.