Managing regime stability: The 2018 presidential elections in authoritarian Russia
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On 18 March 2018, Vladimir Putin was reelected for a fourth term as president of Russia, receiving 77 per cent of the votes. He will remain in office for another six years, up to 2024. While this result did not come as a surprise, political events in the run-up to the election require more attention. Not only did protests take place in cities all over Russia; liberal elites were also strikingly present in both political and economic discussions, occasionally openly challenging the existing system. At the same time, the regime demonstrated a high level of tolerance vis-à-vis such challengers. These observations appear surprising in the context of Russia’s authoritarian political system. The paper analyzes two cases of political confrontation in the context of the 2018 elections: Xenia Sobchak’s presidential campaign and the competition between the economic groupings around the liberal Kudrin and the statist “Stolypin Club”. It can be shown that in both cases, the roots of the seemingly independent political debates can be traced back to initiatives of the existing regime. On the basis of this observation, the paper comes to the following two conclusions: First, a certain level of political controversy is regarded as important for legitimizing the regime. This shows, secondly, that the “electoral authoritarian” regime in Russia has to respond to expectations of its citizens, which include the demand for political options. Overall, this paper suggests that despite its turn to increased authoritarianism and repression in the last years, the Russian government attempts to manage political stability by applying a mix of certain freedoms as well as restrictions.
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