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Putin moves a step closer to a fifth term as president after Russia sets 2024 election date

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at an exhibition at the Mashuk educational center in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol region, Russia on Tuesday
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at an exhibition at the Mashuk educational center in Pyatigorsk, Stavropol region, Russia on Tuesday Copyright Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Copyright Sergei Karpukhin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
By Euronews with AP
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Analysts say it's unlikely that anyone but the current Russian president will be able to take up the mantle at the next election.

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Russian lawmakers have set the date of the country’s 2024 presidential election for 17 March 2024.

The move means President Vladimir Putin is a step closer to a fifth term in office.

Members of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, voted unanimously to approve a decree setting the date.

“In essence, this decision marks the start of the election campaign,” Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, said. Russia’s central election commission is to hold a meeting on the presidential campaign on Friday.

Putin, 71, has yet to announce his intention to run again - but he is widely expected to do so in the coming days now that the date has been set.

Under constitutional reforms he himself orchestrated, Putin is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his current one expires next year, potentially allowing him to remain in power until 2036.

Having established tight control over Russia’s political system, Putin’s victory in the March election is all but assured. Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned in the country.

Neither the costly, drawn-out war in Ukraine, nor a failed rebellion last summer by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appear to have affected his high approval ratings reported by independent pollsters.

Could anybody realistically challenge Putin?

It is not clear who will challenge him on the ballot. Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged his supporters to vote for anyone but Putin in an online statement put out on Thursday

“Putin views this election as a referendum on approval of his actions. A referendum on approval of the war. Let's disrupt his plans and make it happen so that no one on March 17 is interested in the rigged result, but that all of Russia saw and understood: the will of the majority is that Putin must leave," Navalny said.

Two people, though, have announced plans to run: former lawmaker Boris Nadezhdin, who holds a seat on a municipal council in the Moscow region, and Yekaterina Duntsova, a journalist and lawyer from the Tver region north of Moscow, who once was a member of a local legislature.

Igor Girkin also know as Igor Strelkov, the former military chief for Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, pictured in Moscow's City Court in August
Igor Girkin also know as Igor Strelkov, the former military chief for Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, pictured in Moscow's City Court in AugustAlexander Zemlianichenko/The AP

Allies of Igor Strelkov, a jailed hard-line nationalist who accused Putin of weakness and indecision in Ukraine, have cited his ambitions to run as well, but extremism charges levied against him by the Russian authorities render his candidacy unlikely.

Strelkov, a retired security officer who led Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and was convicted of murder in the Netherlands for his role in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that year, has criticised Putin as a “nonentity” and a “cowardly mediocrity.” He was arrested in July and has remained behind bars ever since. He is facing five years in prison if convicted.

For Nadezhdin and Duntsova, getting on the ballot could be an uphill battle. Unless one of five political parties that have seats in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, nominates them as their candidate, they would have to gather tens of thousands of signatures across multiple regions.

According to Russian election laws, candidates put forward by a party that is not represented in the State Duma or in at least a third of regional legislatures have to submit at least 100,000 signatures from 40 or more regions. Those running independently of any party would need a minimum of 300,000 signatures from 40 regions or more.

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Those requirements apply to Putin as well, who has used different tactics over the years.

He ran as an independent in 2018 and his campaign gathered signatures. In 2012, he ran as a nominee of the Kremlin’s United Russia party, so there was no need to gather signatures.

At least one party - A Just Russia, which has 27 seats in the 450-seat State Duma - is willing to nominate Putin as its candidate this year. Its leader, Sergei Mironov, says they will nominate Putin at its party congress on 23 December, even if Putin decides to run as an independent.

Running as an independent is more likely for Putin.

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“It will be too much honour for a party, he values himself highly. Therefore, I think he will run as an independent candidate, and will probably collect signatures. This will be a good pretext to promote the campaign in the regions,” independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin explains.

lawmakers of Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation listen to the national anthem prior to a session in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday
lawmakers of Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation listen to the national anthem prior to a session in Moscow, Russia, on ThursdayAP/The Federation Council of The Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation

A dead cert for Putin?

The central election commission plans online voting in addition to traditional paper ballots in about 30 Russian regions and is considering stretching the voting across three days - a practice that was adopted during the pandemic and widely criticised by independent election monitors.

Those measures on top of restrictions on monitoring adopted in recent years will severely limit the possibility of independent observers, according to Stanislav Adnreychuk, co-chair of Golos, a prominent independent election monitoring group.

Andreychuk told The Associated Press that only registered candidates or state-backed advisory bodies, the Civic Chambers, can assign observers to polling stations, decreasing the likelihood of truly independent watchdogs.

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There is very little transparency with online voting, and if the balloting lasts for three days, it will be incredibly hard to cover nearly 100,000 polling stations in the country - not to mention ensuring that ballots aren’t tampered with at night, he said.

Analyst Oreshkin said the vote will be more of a "ritual" than a competitive electoral process.

“This electoral ritual, electoral rite, has a big significance for Putin and his team. It is important because it measures the loyalty of regional elites and (indicates) that the system works,” he explained.

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