Elections in Russia

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On the federal level, Russia elects a president as head of state and a legislature, one of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The president is elected for, at most, two consecutive six-year terms by the people (raised from four years from December 2008).1 The Federal Assembly (Federalnoe Sobranie) has two chambers. The State Duma (Gosudarstvennaja Duma) has 450 members, elected for five-year terms (also four years up to December 2008), all of them by proportional representation.2 The Federation Council (Sovet Federatsii) is not directly elected; each of the 83 federal subjects of Russia sends 2 delegates to the Federal Council, for a total of 166 members.3

Since 1990, there have been six elections for the presidency and seven for parliament.

In the six presidential elections, only once, in 1996, has a second round been needed. There have been three presidents, with Boris Yeltsin elected in 1991 and 1996, Vladimir Putin in 2000, 2004 and 2012 (Yeltsin had already relinquished power to Putin in 1999) and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. The Communist candidate (of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the Communist Party of the Russian Federation) has finished second in every case: Nikolai Ryzhkov in 1991, Gennady Zyuganov in 1996, 2000 and 2008 and 2012, and Nikolay Kharitonov in 2004. Only in 1996 has there been a third candidate who gained more than 10% of the votes in the first round, Alexander Lebed.

In the parliamentary elections, the Communist Party was the largest party in the 1995 and 1999 elections, with 35% and 24% of the votes respectively. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has ranged from 5 to 15% of the votes, and Yabloko won 10% of the votes in 1995 and around 5% in the other three elections. The only other parties that have achieved more than 10% of the votes have been Democratic Choice of Russia with 16% in 1993, Our Home – Russia with 12% in 1995, and, in 1999, Unity with 23%, Fatherland – All Russia with 13% and People's Deputies Faction with 15%. United Russia, an alliance of Unity and Fatherland – All Russia, became the biggest party with 38% in 2003.

Federal elections

A complement of legislation governs elections in the Russian Federation. Foundation principles on which elections and citizens’ electoral rights are enshrined in the Constitution and clarified in the Law on Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum (Basic Guarantees). Initially this law was intended to underpin the standards and principles that would govern all elections. As it was enacted in 1994, the Basic Guarantees law also set forth relatively specific procedural principles on which subsequent election laws were to be based. Throughout the years, the law was modified.

Russian electoral legislation suffers from an unusual degree of instability. In the past, a new law was adopted for each Duma election: in 1995 for the 1995 elections, in 1999 for the 1999 elections, 2002 for the 2003 elections and 2005 for the 2007 elections. The amendments to the legislation that were passed in the period from 2005 to 2007 were more radical than those of the preceding ten years. The Duma election law of 2005 continues to apply, though it has been the subject of several amendments. From 1994 to 2005 all legislators made an effort to adopt the amendments in packages, so electoral legislation was amended once or twice between elections. Since 2006 amending electoral legislation has become a continuous process. In 2006 and 2007 the authorities amended the law on basic guarantees eleven times and they amended the law on the Duma elections eight times. Between 2008 and 2011 the law on basic guarantees was subject to 28 amendments, while the law on Duma elections underwent 17 amendments.4


The President of Russia is entitled to stay in office for six years. It used to be four years but the Constitution was amended in 2008 to allow the extension to six. It is mainly regulated by the Presidential Election Law (PEL) and the Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights (BGL).5

The PEL specifies the procedures of putting forward candidates for the presidency, either by political parties or by individuals themselves. Political parties officially registered with the Ministry of Justice have legal rights to put forward presidential candidates. The seven political parties that participated in 2011 Duma elections were allowed to submit their candidates as political organizations. Furthermore, the parties which are represented in the current State Duma do not have to collect two million signatures of support for their candidate as all the others should do. There are no constitutional or legal requirements for the president and/or the prime minister to be member of a political party. Individuals can also run for presidency on their own initiative, but such a candidate must be supported by a group of voters that need to be registered with the Central Election Commission. Thus, almost anyone who meets legal requirements theoretically can become a presidential candidate.

The President is elected in a two-round system every six years, with a two consecutive term limitation.5 Prior to 2012, the term of office was four years. If no candidate wins by an absolute majority in the first round, a second election round is held between two candidates with the most votes.5

The only time in the presidential elections history of modern Russia when the presidency was decided at the run-off elections occurred in 1996 after incumbent President Boris Yeltsin gathered most votes at a first round but not enough to win outright. At a second round he had to face his challenger Gennady Zyuganov representing the Communist Party as the candidate with the second highest number of votes. According to official results Boris Yeltsin won the run-off election with 53.82% of votes against Zyuganov's 40.31%. After the presidential elections of 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power the number of presidential candidates shrank to 4-5 people, usually the leaders of officially registered political parties. The last presidential election was in 2012, and the next is expected in 2018.6


Ballot to the 2011 State Duma election with list of Political parties.

These elections were conducted under a number of comprehensive and highly detailed laws and subordinate acts, primarily the Law on the Election of Deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (‘the Duma Election Law’) and the Law on Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in a Referendum (‘the Basic Guarantees Law’). Till May 2012 to participate in the elections, parties not currently represented in State Duma must prove their trustworthiness by either gathering a minimum of 200,000 signatures from potential voters, or paying a bail of approximately $2.5 million. On May 2012 President Medvedev signed a new legislation exempting political parties from the need to collect signatures to run in parliamentary elections.7

Vote turnout

Voting is not obligatory in Russia. The voter turnout for both the executive and legislative elections has been relatively stable in the Russian Federation in the past 20 years. The lowest turnout was for the 1993 constitutional referendum, when only 54.8% of the registered decided to vote. According to the Council of Europe, in general, in rural areas the turnout rate is higher than in urban areas (in the 1995 election 70% and 61% respectively). The local authorities’ control over the population is much stronger in rural areas and in the republics. The Council of Europe also observed an unusual high turnout (average more than 90%) in five North Caucasus republics during the 2004 presidential elections.8 Since 2007 the minimum turnout of 50% for presidential and 25% for Duma of the registered electorate was abolished.9 In general the turnout for presidential elections is higher.


The election legislation includes detailed provisions governing the conduct of electronic and print media during the campaign, inter alia providing for free and paid broadcast time and print space to all political parties registered in the elections on equal conditions for campaign purposes and obligations of state-controlled and private media. The law also requires equal media access for all parties, and that news items on election events must be separate from editorial commentary.

Regional elections

Further information: Federal subjects of Russia


Regional parliaments

Local (self-government) elections

The two main systems of local government include Mayor–council government in which voters cast their ballot for the mayor who represents the executive branch, and another ballot for the city council. The other system is Council–manager government with a city manager, who is nominated by and accountable to the City Duma. The city managers take over the mayors’ key executive duties and oversee the implementa-ion of the city budget and the daily operation of municipal departments and agencies. Legislation also let city councils to amend their city charters so as to replace the popular direct mayoral elections with an indirect election performed by city councils. In 2009, one third of the municipalities had amended their charter. In the same year, the city councils’ right to recall mayors was also introduced.10 The 2010 amendments made mayors have to report on their activities to the city councils and the mayor must quit in the event of two consecutive unsatisfactory votes.

Local mayoral elections

During the soviet period, there was not mayor, but secretary of the local cpsu cell who formally shared the power with the city soviet (gorsoviet), which appointed executive committee to run the day-to-day affairs. In the 90s the Mayor post was introduced and direct elections of mayors began. Beginning in 2006, there was trend to abolish direct election. By September 2011, 44% of all 83 regional capitals already had instituted an indirect election of mayor. By June 2012, an estimated 85% (10,600) of mayors in all Russian municipalities were indirectly elected by their councils with economic chief executive responsibilities vested in city managers.11

The trend for the return of direct elections observed again in the second decade of the 2000s. As of 2011, the direct election of the mayor were abolished in 30% of Russian municipalities.12 In August 2012, the Russian government had submitted to the State Duma a bill on mandatory direct election of mayors for municipalities with over 30,000 residents. The law is still under discussion.

Local legislative elections

Election technologies

GAS Vybori is an electronic network connecting computer complexes in the elections committee. It was established by presidential decree in 1995 in order to facilitate election-related activities and to provide internal information for the election administration. The main tasks of the system are: aggregation of the election results, assistance in maintaining voters lists, and provision of financial information for parties and candidates. The purpose of such an automated system is to provide speed and a high level of transparency in the electoral process and to facilitate all election actors, including the ordinary voter, in tracking the election results.


In 2001, scanners were created for processing election ballots, and in 2003, ballot processing units were introduced. In 2005, a test series of electronic voting units was produced in which paperless voting technology was used.

Remote electronic voting

The first experience of using Internet technologies in Russian elections was an experiment using discs for electronic voting during municipal elections in Novomoskovsk (Tula oblast) in October 2008. An experiment involving electronic polling of voters via the mobile phone network was also conducted in October 2009 during elections in Kingisepp (Leningrad oblast).13

Criticism of recent elections

Since Vladimir Putin became President of Russia there has been increasing international criticism of the conduct of Russian elections. European institutions who observed the December 2007 legislative elections concluded that these were not fair elections. Göran Lennmarker, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that the elections "failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have. It was not a fair election."14 Luc Van den Brande, who headed a delegation from the Council of Europe, referred to the "overwhelming influence of the president's office and the president on the campaign" and said there was "abuse of administrative resources" designed to influence the outcome. He also said there were "flaws in the secrecy of the vote." "Effectively, we can't say these were fair elections," he said at a news conference.15

In February 2008 The human rights organisation Amnesty International said that the presidential election on 2 March would not be a genuine election: "There is no real opposition ahead of the election. There is no real electoral campaign battle," Friederike Behr, Amnesty's Russia researcher, was quoted as saying. In a report on the elections, Amnesty said laws restricting non-government organizations, police breaking up demonstrations, and harassment from critics were all part of "a systematic destruction of civil liberties in Russia."16 Another human rights organisation, Freedom House, said that the victory of Putin's party in the 2007 elections "was achieved under patently unfair and non-competitive conditions calling into doubt the result’s legitimacy."17

The Russian government has acted to prevent international observers monitoring Russian elections. In 2007 the OSCE was prevented from monitoring the legislative elections held in December.18 In February 2008 the European Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights announced that it would not send observers to monitor the presidential election on 2 March, citing what it called "severe restrictions" imposed on its work by the Russian government. "We made every effort in good faith to deploy our mission, even under the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities", said Christian Strohal, the organization’s director. "The Russian Federation has created limitations that are not conducive to undertaking election observation".19 The OSCE has also withdrawn its attempts to monitor the elections.

The 2011 Russian legislative elections were considered to be rigged in favor of the ruling party by a number of journalists and opposition representatives.20 However public opinion-polls prior to the election suggested that the ruling party could count on the support of 45–55 percent of voters, which may suggest that there were no mass falsifications, despite isolated cases of fraud.21 Nationwide exit polls were very close to the final results.22

Latest elections

e • d Summary of the 4 March 2012 Russian presidential election results
Candidates Nominating parties Votes %
Vladimir Putin United Russia 45,513,001 63.64
Gennady Zyuganov Communist Party 12,288,624 17.18
Mikhail Prokhorov self-nominated 5,680,558 7.94
Vladimir Zhirinovsky Liberal Democratic Party 4,448,959 6.22
Sergey Mironov A Just Russia 2,755,642 3.85
Valid votes 70,686,784 98.84
Invalid votes 833,191 1.16
Total votes 71,519,975 100.00
Registered voters/turnout 109,610,812 65.25
Source: Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation
e • d Summary of the 4 December 2011 State Duma election results
Parties and alliances Seat composition Popular vote % ± pp
Seats ± %
United Russia 238 Decrease77 52.88% 32,379,135 49.32% Decrease14.98
Communist Party 92 Increase35 20.46% 12,599,507 19.19% Increase7.62
A Just Russia 64 Increase26 14.21% 8,695,522 13.24% Increase5.50
Liberal Democratic Party 56 Increase16 12.45% 7,664,570 11.67% Increase3.53
Yabloko 0 Steady0 0% 2,252,403 3.43% Increase1.84
Patriots of Russia 0 Steady0 0% 639,119 0.97% Increase0.08
Right Cause 0 Steady0 0% 392,806 0.60% new party
Total 450 0 100% 64,623,062 100%
Valid ballot papers 64,623,062 98.43%
Invalid ballot papers 1,033,464 1.57%
Eligible voters 109,237,780 Turnout: 60.10%
Source: Summary table of election results - Central Election Commission

See also


  1. ^ "The Constitution of the Russian Federation". Garant Service. Retrieved 14 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "State Duma adopting proportional vote". The Russia Journal. 15 April 2005. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  3. ^ "Search". International Herald Tribune. 29 March 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Russian Analytical Digest No. 106, 21 December 2011
  5. ^ a b c Gueorguieva, Vassia; Simon, Rita James (2009). Voting and Elections the World Over. Global Perspectives on Social Issues Series. Lexington Books. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7391-3090-2. 
  6. ^ Herszenhorn, David M. (5 March 2012). "Observers Detail Flaws in Russian Election". New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2012. 
  7. ^ "Medvedev Signs Off on Election, Party Signature Laws", RIA Novosti, May 2, 2012.
  8. ^ Council of Europe – Doc. 10150 – Ad hoc Committee to observe the Presidential election in the Russian Federation
  9. ^ Council of Europe – Doc. 10150 – Ad hoc Committee to observe the Presidential election in the Russian Federation (14 March 2004)
  10. ^ Details on changes in electoral systems to city councils are in J.C. MOSES, Russian Local Politics in the Putin-Medvedev Era, in Europe-Asia Studies, 62, 9, 2010, pp. 1427 -1452
  11. ^ Russian Mayors Embattled, RUSSIAN ANALYTICAL DIGEST No. 139, 18 November 2013]
  12. ^ "В Ульяновске вернули прямые выборы мэра". Lenta.ru. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  14. ^ (English) "Monitors denounce Russia election". BBC News (BBC). 3 December 2007. Retrieved 25 May 2008. 
  15. ^ International Observers Say Russia's Parliamentary Election Not Fair, Fox News, 3 December 2007
  16. ^ February, Reuters (26 February 2008). "No opposition or debate in Russia election: Amnesty". Canada.com. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "Russian Elections Lack Legitimacy; Meaningful Political Competition Absent". Freedomhouse.org. 3 December 2007. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  18. ^ Election Observers Unwelcome, Spiegel Online, 16 November 2007
  19. ^ European Group Cancels Mission to Observe Russian Election, Citing Restrictions , New York Times, 8 February 2008
  20. ^ Schwirtz, Michael; David M. Herszenhorn (5 December 2011). "Voters Watch Polls in Russia, and Fraud Is What They See". New York Times. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 
  21. ^ Migranyan, Migranik (9 December 2011). "What the Recent Russian Elections Really Mean". National Interest. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  22. ^ "Russia's Putin and party suffer election blow". Reuters. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 

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