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Russia election: Continuity and change

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A woman poses with a frame reading ‘I chose a president’ in front of a mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during Russia’s presidential election at a polling station in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict on March 15, 2024. Picture: AFP

By Reneva Fourie

On July 1, 2020, 78 percent of Russians, in a voter turnout of 68 percent, voted for amendments to the Constitution. These amendments extended the Presidential term to six years but also ushered in constitutional reform to accommodate the changes in Russia since 1993. Among the implications of the constitutional amendments are guaranteed rights for children, pensioners and workers. The amendments also entrench Russia’s sovereignty by prioritising domestic interests and affirming its culture and values.

On March 15 to 17, 2024, the people of Russia voted for the first time since the constitutional amendments were effected. Russia’s Central Elections Committee reported that 112 million voters had registered in Russia, with another 1,9 million voters abroad. Among them were voters from the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, yet another first.

These four areas were historically part of Russia. However, they had been incorporated into Ukraine after the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the early 1990s. They voted to be reintegrated into Russia in the September 2022 referendum. Therefore, the usual one-day elections had to be held over three days to allow all voters to participate. Online voting also enabled those in rural areas and far from voting stations to have their say. Voter turnout exceeded 77 percent.

This massive logistical feat was multiplied due to the facilitation of the participation of international observers from 106 countries and 12,000 journalists from 2,500 media outlets. The media and international observers played a critical oversight role in ensuring that the elections were indeed free and fair and to give it credibility.

The system’s efficiency resides in the fast counting and verification of votes. Already, the results indicate that Mr Putin, an independent candidate, will win the elections. The remaining less than 15 percent of the votes are shared, with marginal differences, between the Communist Party of the Russian Federation’s Nikolai Kharitonov, the New People’s Party’s Vladislav Davankov, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia’s Leonid Slutsky, respectively.

The electoral outcomes assure South Africans of the continuation of essential projects around BRICS plus, including enhanced trade and investment. It also provides hope for change. This change, in which Russia is an important role player, relates to creating a multipolar world order, whereby we no longer have a few countries bullying others and forcing them to adhere to their economic, political and foreign affairs policy stances. This change also relates to enabling trade in local currencies to minimise the impact of illegal unilateral coercive measures such as sanctions and the abuse of the SWIFT system to advance economic warfare.

Furthermore, this change relates to the transformation of the multilateral system to ensure a fairer application of international law to avoid the commitment of genocides as currently witnessed against the people of Palestine.

The one area where there is a continuation, which could benefit from change, is global conflict. The creation of a multipolar world order as opposed to the current dominance and control by the US can hopefully assist in bringing an end to the conflict in Ukraine and all other countries where a belligerent US has ignited instability.

President Putin has made several overtures to end the NATO/US-flamed tension in the region. His overwhelming electoral victory busts the myth of a people in fear of their President and affirms that the people from the four ‘new’ regions identify as Russians. What is required now is for the West to respect the electoral outcomes and to concede to the continued efforts by President Putin for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security