The election campaign for the election began on December 18. Only eight of the 70 candidates, who expressed their desire to participate in the vote, have made it to the final stage of the race, and one of them is having an unpleasant problem over alleged accounts in foreign banks.
The Russians will choose the next leader of the country from the following eight candidates: Sergey Baburin from the All-People's Union party, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, incumbent President Vladimir Putin, Civil Initiative party candidate Ksenia Sobchak, Communists of Russia party chairman Maxim Suraykin, Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov, co-founder of the Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
Presidential debates, in which candidates could talk about the most difficult domestic and foreign policy issues, are usually the most salient part of election campaigns. The national channels have allocated over 60 hours of free air time for debates, while three radio networks have also offered candidates an opportunity to present their programs and take part in debates.
Over 600 regional television and radio broadcasters also provided the candidates with air time. Only seven candidates are taking part in these debates. Putin and his authorized representatives have decided not to participate in the debates.
Amid the absence of the candidates at the events, several of the politicians called for changes in the format and timeframe of debates. Sobchak, Zhirinovsky, and Baburin protested against the debates’ format, whereas Grudinin walked out of a TV studio saying that he would no longer take part in this "spectacle."
Responding to the complaints, Ella Pamfilova, the CEC chairwoman, said that no candidates had voiced their objections during the procedure of allocation of free air time.
One of the biggest scandals during the debates was Sobchak’s quarrel with Zhirinovsky, broadcast by Rossiya 1. When Zhirinovsky interfered in a speech delivered by Baburin, Sobchak called on Zhirinovsky to calm down but he only shouted insults. In return Sobchak splashed water on her rival.
Responding to the insults, the CEC sent a request to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office. According to Pamfilova, the election commission has to ensure that no one insults candidates.
Without Phantom Voters
Ahead of the election, the CEC has carefully checked the number of voters. As of January 1, 2018, the Russian electorate numbered some 109 million in Russia and approximately 1.9 million outside it.
The CEC reported that it had cleansed voter lists of phantom voters and repeated mentioning of voters in the lists. It also cooperated with the Russian Interior Ministry to rule out the double reporting of those who permanently reside abroad being registered in Russia. CEC Deputy Chairperson Nikolai Bulaev said in early February that the voter lists were highly reliable but that they would continue to update the lists.
Some 97,000 ballot stations will open on Sunday in Russia, and another 400 polling places will be established in 145 other countries.
According to Russia's legislation, any voter is able to vote at polling stations located near their de facto residence due to the new "mobile voter" mechanism in the election. Starting from January 31, local election commissions, Russia's Public Services Portal, and Public Services Centers started receiving such requests. Over 4.2 million applications have already been received.
The 2018 election campaign is characterized by a record low number of complaints filed. According to the CEC, only 386 complaints have been filed by Monday, the majority of them in Moscow (56), St. Petersburg (38) and Moscow Region (35).
Speaking about low numbers, Pamfilova said that it had been caused by the CEC’s prompt and effective work to mend the problems cited in complaints. The official called on the regional election commissions to act in a similar manner.
Pamfilova mentioned numerous fake news regarding election campaign falsifications, which are designed to discredit the authorities. She pointed out that false complaints were sent to regional election commissions and also reported by public organizations in their so-called "violation registers." According to the official, such organizations seldom check the information they receive but immediately make it public.
The majority of Grudinin's complaints have been related to the coverage of his campaign by TV channels. The CEC has not found signs of violations by the media outlets. At the same time the commission has found violations in the information provided by the candidate before the election.
In particular, information from the Federal Tax Service (FTS) shows that Grudinin had 13 bank accounts in Switzerland at the time of his nomination. Despite this, the CEC has refused to cancel his registration because they have a signed statement filed by Grudinin upon his registration to the effect that he does not own any financial assets abroad. At the same time, the CEC will publish the FTS data regarding Grudinin on the posters with information about the candidates, which will be on display at all voting stations.
The CEC expects huge interest from international observers, including representatives of international organizations, lawmakers, and diplomats, to monitor the election.
The first international observers started their activities in the country in February. This group of 60 long-term observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has been deployed in 30 regions, including in such cities as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Pskov, Ryazan, Yaroslavl, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, and Vladivostok. Another 420 short-term observers will be deployed across Russia (excluding Crimea) immediately prior to the Sunday election.
Russian lower house speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has also sent some 250 invitations to observers from 74 countries, including to lawmakers, the members of the European Parliament, and political analysts.
All presidential candidates will also have their observers. They claim that their monitors will be deployed at nearly all voting stations across the country.
There will be also public observers, including from the Civic Chamber of Russia, which has received the right to send observers to the voting stations. The federal and regional chambers hope to train over 100,000 people to monitor the presidential election.
On the voting day, people will be able not just to cast their ballots but also to monitor the situation online via video cameras installed at the polling stations, where some 80 percent of voters will take part in the election. For the first time ever, cameras will be also installed at the territorial election commissions where voting results protocols will be delivered from district election commissions.
The number of ballot paper processing systems has been doubled to almost 13,000 for the Sunday election, plus there will be about 1,000 touch-screen voting systems, which brings the total to some 13,600. About one third of the voters will be able to use these electronic voting systems.
QR-codes will be used at the upcoming election to count voting results for the first time.
This should reduce the number of mistakes due to human error and also accelerate the feeding of protocol data into the State Automated System Vybory. The CEC hopes that the use of QR-code technology will allow the cast ballots to be counted in record time.