How Does the Russian Presidency Work and Was Putin Democratically Elected?

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author

Mar. 10 2022, Published 8:20 a.m. ET

Russia and its president Vladimir Putin have been making global headlines for most of 2022. Many people want to know whether Putin was elected democratically and how the Russian presidency works.

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Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has left many guessing on his motives. Many see it as a ploy to eventually restore the former Soviet Union. Some others see it as a continuation of his territorial ambitions.

Russia is a federation, according to the constitution.

The Russian constitution defines the country as a federation. The country has a president and a prime minister. While the president is the head of the state, the prime minister is the head of the government. Russia has a bicameral federal assembly, which consists of the Duma and the Federation Council.

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The country’s federal government has three branches. The first is the legislative branch, which has the power to make laws and also impeach the president. The second branch is the executive, which is the president. The Russian president has the power to veto the bills passed by the legislature. He's also the commander-in-chief of the country’s vast military and the “guarantor” of the constitution.

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The final branch is the judiciary. According to the Russian constitution, the judges are appointed by the Federation Council but the names are recommended by the president.

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There are multiple political parties in Russia.

Russia is a multi-party democracy. The main political parties in Russia are Putin’s United Russia Party, Russia of the Future which is led by fierce Putin critic Alexi Navalny, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and the Communist Party.

How does the Russian presidency work?

Russian presidential elections are held every six years. The term was previously four years but was increased to six years in 2008 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev.

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The president is elected by secret universal ballot. In case the Russian president resigns or isn't able to fulfill his duties, the prime minister becomes the acting president. Putin became the acting president when Boris Yeltsin suddenly resigned in 1999.

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No Russian president can seek three consecutive terms. However, Putin has either found a workaround or amended the constitution to remain in power.

Is Putin democratically elected?

Putin was first elected democratically in 2000 and again in 2004. He has won two more elections since then, in 2012 and 2018. To strengthen his “democratic credentials” he even went for a referendum in 2020 for approval of the constitutional changes that allow him to run for two more terms. After the constitutional changes, he can be the president until 2036.

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Is Russia a democracy?

While Putin has been democratically elected, just like Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, the democratic system in these countries is far from free. Freedom House concluded in its 2021 report that Russia is “Not Free” and gave it a score of 20 out of 100. Importantly, on political rights, it gave the country an even dismal score of five out of 40.

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Freedom House said, “Power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factions, the Kremlin is able to manipulate elections and suppress genuine dissent.”

To get a sense of how free the country’s democracy is, consider the fact that Navalny was barred from running in the elections. He was also later poisoned, which many believe was done at Putin’s behest. Media has a key role to play in a democracy but Russian media has largely been a state spokesperson.


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