This Week in History: Putin Elected President


March 27, 2000:

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s law-and-order candidate, appeared headed toward an outright victory today after the second democratic presidential election since the fall of communism.

With 94 percent of the vote from Sunday’s election counted, Putin had 52.5 percent of the vote, enough to ensure victory and avoid a runoff. Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov was second with 29.45 percent.

Liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky was in third place with about 7 percent of the vote.

The Associated Press called Putin the outright winner. The state- run RTR television network had predicted that earlier.

Zyuganov accused the government of falsifying the results, saying the Communist vote was more than 40 percent. There were no immediate reports on the fairness of the election from international monitors.

“They have set up a zone of blanket fraud to cheat citizens,” Zyuganov said.

Putin looked likely to fall well short of his campaign’s hopes for a huge victory and a strong mandate for his call to impose strong government at home and to revive Russia as a global power.

Election officials worked overnight to tally votes cast across 11 time zones. Complete results were not expected to be available until midday today Moscow time. Officials confirmed 68.5 percent of Russia’s 108 million eligible voters cast ballots.

A smiling Putin, who became acting president after President Boris Yeltsin resigned Dec. 31, appeared relaxed and confident of victory.

“Until recently, taking part in elections seemed like a nightmare to me. If there is no runoff, I’ll be a happy man,” he told reporters gathered at his campaign headquarters, where he arrived after midnight.

Throughout the lackluster three-month campaign, polls showed Putin with an unbeatable lead — a highly unexpected situation given that only four months earlier he was an obscure bureaucrat working as the head of the Russian secret service agency.

But after Yeltsin picked Putin to be prime minister in August and, to the amazement of most Russians, named him as his preferred successor, Putin‘s ascension in the polls was lightning quick.

He emerged in the eyes of many Russians as a capable, decisive leader thanks to the Chechen war. With campaign promises to restore Russia’s greatness, Putin soon became a symbol for people from all walks of life who in the last nine years have watched their country fall apart amid bouts of hyperinflation, massive financial crises and rampant corruption.

“We need a leader who first and foremost can tackle corruption. There is no better choice than Putin for this task,” said 28-year- old Yuri Ponchiko, who showed up at the polls to vote for the politician.

Many analysts say Putin‘s campaign strategy of talking only in generalities helped his popularity. For instance, he announced he supported continued market reforms for the country, but told voters details about his economic program would only be published in May, almost two months after the election.

“In Putin, the electorate is choosing a stable, civilized patriotism,” analyst Alexander Tsipko said. “What that means exactly will be seen only later.”

This year’s election was originally billed as a triumph of democracy in the former Communist country, as it would mark the first time that an elected Russian leader would cede power to a successor chosen in a national vote.

But Yeltsin’s surprising resignation on New Year’s Eve gave a slight twist to the proceedings.

His resignation pushed the presidential elections up by three months, a period of time demanded by the constitution. The new time frame put Putin‘s competitors at an extreme disadvantage, as they had just concluded parliamentary elections on Dec. 19 and that had taxed their parties’ coffers.

Putin, on the other hand, was riding high, after a string of victories in the Chechen war, and had little to worry about in terms of exposure or financial expenditures.

He took full use of his official position as head of state, conducting numerous trips to the Russian hinterland and frontlines in Chechnya, as well as meeting with international officials such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — all with TV crews from the state-run television stations in tow.

Television is crucial in such a huge country, and the Kremlin controls both of Russia’s biggest networks, RTR and ORT. Putin benefited from flattering news coverage, while his opponents were portrayed in a negative light if at all.

European parliamentarians who arrived in Russia to observe the elections reported no widespread irregularities in voting Sunday. However, they did express dismay about the lopsided media coverage of the campaign.

“What we’ve seen are the same underhanded tactics observed in other places. It’s not a good sign for the growth of democracy,” said Halle Degn, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

The presidential inauguration is set for May 5 should the ballot be settled in a single round, and between May 25 and May 28 if it goes to a runoff.


Source Citation:  Margaret Coker, The Atlanta Constitution [Atlanta, Ga] 27 Mar 2000: A1.  Accessed March 18, 2016 via

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