Who are Russia’s presidential candidates

Sadly in Russia today, there is absence political pluralism and the spirit of standard competitive environment has eluded the electorate.

“Russia closes presidential race,” noted most of the news agencies across the Russian Federation. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), three qualified candidates are running against incumbent President Vladimir Putin. “Russia closes presidential race candidate registration with Putin and 3 others. The list did not include the Russian anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin after the Central Election Commission barred him from running,” saying it had found flaws in the collection of signatures required for the support of his candidacy. That compared, eight candidates were on the ballot during the presidential election held in 2018.

The CEC registered Vladislav Davankov, deputy chair of the Russian Duma and a member of the New People caucus; Leonid Slutsky, the leader of the Kremlin-loyal ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR); and the Communist Party nominee, Nikolai Kharitonov. Biographical records show that Kharitonov is the oldest candidate. He will be 75 years and 4 months old on the election day. Davankov is the youngest. He will turn 40 on March 17, 2024.

The biographical records show Putin now aged 71, who has chosen to run as an independent rather than as the candidate of the ruling United Russia party and who has been Russia’s leader since 2000 and controls all the state’s levers, is expected to easily win next month’s vote.

Putin took over from the first President Boris Yeltsin and has now become the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin. Plucked from obscurity, Yeltsin had earlier described Putin his chosen successor, and Yeltsin’s inner circle had worked behind the scenes to promote Putin as the next president. Yeltsin also noted that Putin as energetic, young and full of political motivation. Following Yeltsin’s resignation, Putin became acting president and, in less than four months, was elected to his first term as president.

Putin strategic craftsmanship included moving one step down as prime minister and ultimately moving up again as president. Due to constitutional limitations of two consecutive presidential terms, Putin served as prime minister again from 2008 to 2012 under Dmitry Medvedev. He returned to the presidency in 2012.  In April 2021, after a referendum, he signed into law constitutional amendments that included one allowing him to run for re-election twice more, potentially extending his presidency to 2036.

That however, Russia’s economy has been improving and transforming into a post-Soviet modern state. According to several reports read by this author, Putin has often and several times indicated that overcoming the consequences of the world economic crisis as well as the consolidating and achieving economic sovereignty are his principal tasks as the unique political leader.

Beyond those remarkable achievements even under stringent sanctions, Putin and his executive body has shown practical commitment to harnessing untapped potentials for socio-economic growth, leveraging unto home-grown innovative solutions to Russia’s development challenges, as well as contributing towards building more resilient economy for Russia’s 143.6 million people.

Putin’s level of public trust and approval ratings are expectedly high these several years, and latest public survey have found him in an upswing, reaching more than 80%, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM). The public opinion polls also expressed optimism for efforts being made further for the improvement of economy and social welfare by the executive cabinet and under the Kremlin administration. 

But for Vladislav Davankov, the Deputy Chairman in the State Duma of the Russian Federation since 2021, views his political aspiration as an elevation to a higher position. Davankov sits in the State Duma with the liberal-oriented New People caucus, which, with him as a key member, was the only parliamentary party to not support the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions from Ukraine in the prelude to the Russian invasion.

In 2023, Davankov unsuccessfully ran in the Moscow mayoral race, an election notable for its controversial use of electronic voting. He scored 5.38% per official results. Now he is an approved candidate participating in March’s presidential election. Despite his candidacy, he also signed his name in support of anti-war activist Boris Nadezhdin’s candidacy, arguing that the country should allow great ballot access to all candidates, local media reports wrote about him this early February.

The Communist Party nominee, Nikolai Kharitonov was proposed Gennady Zhuganov and supported by the party. He is a stark unswerving loyal communist politician, who has served in the State Duma since 1994, and Chairs the Committee on the Development of Far Eastern and Arctic regions since 2011.

Although Zyuganov had originally wanted for the party to abstain from participating in the elections to protest what he considered to be the “undemocratic nature” of the election, he could not coalesce the party in agreement on non-participation and ultimately supported Kharitonov. Since the collapse of Soviet era, Gennady Zhuganov participated in all the previous presidential elections, but lost to candidates of the United Party.

Leonid Slutsky, represents the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) established by Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Along side Gennady Zhuganov, Zhirinovsky also was a presidential candidate during all the past elections. But his first political breakthrough came in June 1991, when he came third in Russia’s first presidential election, gathering more than six million votes (7.81% of the vote). On 25 March 2022, Zhirinovsky died in a hospital. In a statement after Zhirinovsky died, president Vladimir Putin said he “always defended his patriotic position and Russia’s interests before any audience and in the fiercest of debates”. On 6 April 2023, a monument to Zhirinovsky was unveiled at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Slutsky has taken over the LDPR after the sudden death of Zhirinovsky since 2022. In addition to his party activities, Slutsky as the First Deputy Chairman in the State Duma, also headed the  Foreign Affairs Committee during the he 7th State Duma. Currently he is campaigning on the party ticket to become the next president and to sit in the Kremlin.

Nevertheless, Russian officialdom is tactful, with the rules of the game, as it navigates political rifts this election period, playing field is full of public relations to entice the general public (electorate) and also directed on drawing the positive perception towards obtaining fair and victorious elections for Putin. There are no clandestine ceiling erected to cover the obvious results mid-March.

In any case, the existing intertwined multiple factors have made the officialdom to despise political differences among the rival parties and to allow actual political competition. Comparatively, Putin has displayed uttermost commitment by undertaking the fundamental challenges towards achieving development goals for the growing population across Russia.

Research and various analysis, however, show that Putin is a distinguished powerful leader. Therefore, in this final context, the authentic results will be known after the March 17, even though one could predict what this already is in reality. Russian media reports have indicated it, but just wait for the next few weeks, the live outcomes from the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. 

Russia has 112.3 million eligible voters. The CEC has already informed that voting would span three days, taking place on March 15, 16 and 17. This will be Russia’s first three-day presidential election. Russia’s Federation Council, or upper house of parliament, the State Duma, the lower house of legislators, have scheduled the presidential election for March 17, 2024.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.