Vladimir Putin is set to lead Russia for another six years after securing 73.9% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential election. Yes, the same man who is currently being blamed for the attempted murder of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
The turn out for the elections this year was 63.7%, less than the number who voted in the election in 2012. Despite a number of attempts made to encourage people to get out and vote, this reduced turn out is likely to be because of the certainty of Putin’s victory. So, what is it that makes Putin so popular?
The majority of those seen at ballot boxes and polling stations on Sunday afternoon were from the middle to older generations of society. These are the people who really remember the struggles that ensued upon the collapse of the USSR and who appreciate how much better their life is now. While in the home of an elderly Russian lady earlier this week, I asked her about her decision to vote for Vladimir Putin. In response she simply opened her fridge, pointed to the shelves of food and said “life is so much better now”. In 1992, almost 35% of the Russian population was living in poverty and now the figures are as low as 13%, with Putin promising to further reduce the number of Russians living in poverty. He has also pledged to increase living standards and the minimum wage. Just how well he will deliver on these promises remains to be seen, but he is telling the country what they want to hear.
So, what is it that makes Putin so popular?
It is the younger generations of the Russian population who are not so united in their views. This is where the main support base for Alexei Navalny lies. The opposition leader was barred from the race due to a corruption conviction, which he argues is politically motivated. He urged his supporters to boycott “the election with no choice”. The students and teens who were protesting on the streets of 82 Russian cities at the end of 2017 opted to stay in their homes on the day of the presidential election. They see no point in voting in an election where the outcome is already determined and there is only one real choice.
However, they may have course mates and friends who do not share this opinion. I spoke to a young English teacher at a school in the town of Yaroslavl, 4 hours north east of Moscow, about how she felt towards the Russian election and Putin’s inevitable victory. Initially, it seemed that she shared the same view of the other young people that I had spoken to, but then she said “even if you don’t support his policies, the one thing that Putin does represent is stability.” You only have to take a brief look at Russia’s history to see that change hasn’t always brought them what they want. Electing someone new would mean venturing into the unknown, and that’s not something Russia’s ready to do. Not again, that’s for sure. A little over 100 years ago, revolution in Russia shook the world as they saw off the tsar and welcomed a new communist regime. What followed was decades of turmoil culminating in the collapse of the USSR and a country left poor and hungry by the 1990s. It would be difficult to argue that Putin didn’t have something to do with bringing the country back to the status that it now has. You’ve got to give the guy credit where it’s due.
It would be difficult to argue that Putin didn’t have something to do with bringing the country back to the status that it now has.
So, for the majority of voters, Putin is promising them the Russia that they want, and he’s got the track record to prove it. For those that are less convinced by his policies, at least a vote for Putin is a vote for stability. And what of those seemingly most dissatisfied with the leader and political climate as a whole? Well, perhaps they’re just not quite willing to see what a fight for change will actually bring.