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Russia’s 2024 Presidential Election: What to Know

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The presidential vote in Russia, which begins Friday and lasts through Sunday, features the trappings of a horse race but is more of a predetermined, Soviet-style referendum.

President Vladimir V. Putin, 71, will undoubtedly win a fifth term, with none of the three other candidates who are permitted on the ballot presenting a real challenge. The main opposition figure who worked to spoil the vote, Aleksei A. Navalny, a harsh critic of Mr. Putin and the Ukraine war, died in an Arctic prison last month.

Still, the vote is significant for Mr. Putin as a way to cement his legitimacy and refurbish his preferred image as the embodiment of security and stability. That image was tarnished when the war, advertised as a speedy operation to topple the government in Kyiv, turned into a slog that caused hundreds of thousands of casualties, ruptured relations with the West and ushered in harsher domestic repression.

“The Kremlin needs to demonstrate huge popular support, and that this support has increased since the beginning of the war,” said Nikolay Petrov, a Russian political scientist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

The Kremlin habitually ensures that Mr. Putin faces no real competition. The other candidates — all members of the State Duma, Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament — voted for the war in Ukraine, for increased censorship and for laws curbing gay rights.

Nikolai Kharitonov, 75, of the Communist Party, already lost badly to Mr. Putin in 2004.

Leonid Slutsky, 56 of the Liberal Democratic Party, a nationalist group loyal to Mr. Putin, has said he will not rally voters against the president.

Vladislav A. Davankov, 40, from the New People Party, is nominally liberal and has called for “peace” in Ukraine but has basically supported Mr. Putin.

Two candidates opposed to the war were disqualified. A veteran politician, Boris Nadezhdin, alarmed the Putin administration when tens of thousands of people across Russia lined up to sign petitions required for him to run. The Kremlin invalidated enough signatures to bar him.

Russia held real elections for about a decade after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Ever since, the Kremlin has relied on various social, geographic and technical levers to ensure that its candidate receives an overwhelming majority.

Mr. Putin, although generally popular, has long sought to win more than half the votes and also more than he did the previous time. This year that means outstripping the 56 million votes he received in 2018; pundits are betting on 60 million.

Two important changes this time could add to the vote’s opacity.

For one, balloting will be held in the so-called “new territories,” the four Ukrainian regions Moscow annexed without fully controlling them. Russia’s election officials say the area has 4.5 million voters, an assertion virtually impossible to monitor amid a war.

“We cannot check the figures there and the authorities will use them as they wish,” said Alexander V. Kynev, an independent election expert in Moscow.

Also, the ability to vote online will be more widely available, with electronic voters in 29 regions on one huge list, with no means to check where or how they voted, Mr. Kynev noted.

In a sprawling, diverse country like Russia, the Kremlin can also use more traditional means. Regions dominated by ethnic strongmen, like the Caucuses, habitually report huge turnouts with Mr. Putin receiving 99 percent of the vote — even if relatively few people show up at polling stations.

Areas where state industries prevail also tend to report heavy support for the president. To turn out the vote, some polling stations hold raffles for prizes like household appliances or firewood. One Siberian region is offering 16,000 prizes.

But the Kremlin must rely on some votes in big cities, and that can get tricky. Excessive manipulation has created unrest previously. There might be slightly more manipulation this year because election monitors are barred unless issued credentials by the candidates.

With street demonstrations banned, some Putin opponents hope to cast protest votes. The simplist method to lower his tally is to vote for someone else, experts noted.

“Noon Against Putin,” a campaign pushed by Mr. Navalny’s organization, suggests swarming polling places at midday on Sunday. But there are a number of hurdles, including possible confrontations with the police.

Also, in previous votes, few polling stations had more than 3,000 registered voters and many had fewer than 1,000. “It is technically very complicated to create a crowd,” said David Kankiia, an analyst with the Golos election watchdog, barred in Russia.

Since he was first appointed successor to President Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Mr. Putin has said Russia’s Constitution would dictate the length of his tenure. Then he kept rewriting the Constitution.

Asked in 2014 whether he would remain president forever, Mr. Putin responded, “This is not good and it is detrimental for the country and I do not need it either,” before adding, “We will see what the situation will be like, but in any case the term of my work is restricted by the Constitution.”

In 2008, when term limits forced him to step aside, he became prime minister under President Dmitri A. Medvedev, although Mr. Putin remained the power behind the throne until reclaiming the top job in 2014.

Presidential terms were extended to six years before the 2018 vote, and then in 2020 Mr. Putin changed the constitution again to reset his term clock. At this point, he can have at least two terms until 2036. If Mr. Putin lasts, he will soon outstrip the record, 29-year rule of Joseph Stalin.

The tally is expected to be announced sometime Sunday night Moscow time.

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