How the Presidential Electoral System Works

The Two Term Limit

Initially, the presidential term was four years. In December 2008, a constitutional amendment was passed to extend it to six years to take effect after the following presidential election. Calling the election is the responsibility of the Federation Council.

President Putin stepped down when his term expired in April 2008. In December 2007, on his recommendation, the VIII Congress of the United Russia Party had nominated First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as its candidate for president. Putin had said that if Medvedev became president, he would be ready to serve as prime minister, without any change in the powers of either office. Putin's decision satisfied the formal requirement of Russia's constitution that no president may serve more than two consecutive terms and provided him with a continued role at the very top of the political system. As predicted by pre-election surveys the Medvedev-Putin "tandem" won by a landslide--see final results.

The Nomination of Presidential Candidates

Any Russian citizen age 35 or above who has been resident in the country for at least 10 years and does not hold citizenship nor right of residence in another country is eligible to be nominated.

Political parties can nominate a candidate only if they are lawfully registered on the date the election is announced. The requirements for registration are stringent, and include a minimum of 50,000 members, branches with at least 500 members in more than half the 83 regions of the Federation and no less than 250 members in the remaining regional branches. At the initiative of President Medvedev, these requirements are being gradually relaxed: in 2010 and 2011, the minimum number of members will be 45,000, branches with at least 450 members in more than half the regions and no less than 200 members in the remaining branches; from 2012, the minimum members will be 40,000, branches with at least 400 members in more than half the regions and no fewer than 150 members in the remaining branches.

Candidates can be nominated in four different ways:

  • Parties winning any number of seats in the immediately preceding Duma election automatically have the right to nominate a presidential candidate. In 2008, these parties were: United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and Fair Russia. Fair Russia did not nominate a candidate. A party candidate has to be endorsed by a party conference and have his or her credentials presented to the Central Electoral Commission within 25 days of the announcement of the election.
  • After amendments to the law in spring 2009, parties with seats in no less than one third of the legislative assemblies of the 83 regions of the Federation also have the right to nominate a presidential candidate.
  • Other legally registered parties can nominate candidates within the same time scale and in accordance with the same procedures as the aforementioned parties. However, these other parties face an additional hurdle in order to be confirmed for a place on the ballot: they have to collect 2 million signatures from an electorate of approximately 100 million. No more than 50,000 of these signatures can be from any one of the 83 regions. In 2008, only one non-Duma party, the Union of Right Forces, nominated a candidate, former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. However, he later withdrew claiming the election process was unfair.
  • Candidates can stand as independents by registering a supporters' group with the Central Electoral Commission within 20 days of the formal announcement of the election. Like non-Duma parties, they have to collect 2 million signatures in order to be confirmed for a place on the ballot. In 2008 eleven independent candidates registered supporters' groups. Of these, nine had their credentials rejected, eight on grounds of inadequate documentation and one on the grounds that he lives abroad. The two independents who had their credentials accepted went on to collect signatures.
  • Within five days after filing complete nomination papers, the Central Electoral Commission either accepts or rejects the nomination on stated grounds. Candidates have a right of appeal to the Supreme Court, which has to rule within five days.

In 2008 only five candidates managed to file complete nomination papers. Three were from Duma parties and two were nominal independents. The Central Electoral Commission rejected one independent, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, as having too many invalid signatures. He did not appeal to the Supreme Court, but denounced the decision as politically motivated.

Electing a President

The winning candidate requires an absolute majority of the total vote. If no candidate secures this majority in the first-round ballot, then a second-round run off election must be held three weeks later in which the only contestants are the two front-running candidates in the first round. In 1996 Boris Yeltsin won barely a third of the vote in the first round; in 2000 and 2004 Vladimir Putin won an absolute majority in the first round (previous results), and Dmitry Medvedev did the same in 2008. Before the 2008 election, the ballot option of voting "against all" was abolished; in 2004 this protest vote was 3.4 percent of the total.

The previous minimum turnout of 50 percent of the registered electorate was also abolished. In the three previous presidential elections, the turnout had ranged between 69.7 percent in the 1996 first round and 64.3 percent in 2004. In 2008, it was again 69.7%.

The inauguration day of the new president was 7 May 2008.

Timetable of the 2008 election.

Timetable of the 2012 election.