An important part of any political system in a democratic state is the regular holding of elections for representative bodies at various levels, as well as higher authorities, as well as senior officials in the country and heads of local executive authorities. Simultaneously with the strengthening and development of democratic traditions, the forms and methods for influencing public opinion and voters are improved. In the history of the achievements of human civilization, elections and electoral procedures have a special place. The right of citizens to participate in the formation of institutions of power is a recognized feature of modern society and the state. In their struggle for political democracy, each country has opened new opportunities and conditions for the transformation of citizens into full-fledged subjects of world politics and governance.
I have chosen for this assignment to analyse the 1996 Russian Presidential election. In theory the 1996 election were the second presidential election of Russia, but as the 1991 election were for the position of President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), technically the 1996 election were the first of what we know as today’s Russia.
The position of the President of the Russian Federation (until December 25, 1991 – President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) was created on April 24, 1991 as the highest official and chief executive of one of the Republics of the USSR – the RSFSR – on the basis of the will of the people expressed in a referendum on March 17 1991. Approving the results of this referendum, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR on April 24, 1991 adopted the RSFSR “Law on the President of the RSFSR”, which regulated the activities and powers of the President, and the RSFSR “Law On the election of the President of the RSFSR”, which determined the procedure for his election. In 1993 the new Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted. The new Constitution defined the new, still effective, legal status of the President of the Russian Federation.
In 1991, an absolute majority electoral system emerged in the presidential election in Russia, according to which to elect a president in general elections (first round of voting) it is necessary that a majority of active voters vote for him (for elections to take place, more than half of the registered voters must take part in them). If at the general election the president is not elected, a second vote is held (second round of voting) for the two candidates with the highest number of votes. Elections of the President of Russia are regulated by the Constitution and the Federal Law “On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation”.
The election of the President of Russia was scheduled for June 16 1996 in accordance with the Constitution of Russia and in connection with the expiration of the term of office of the President of Russia. Yeltsin, elected President of Russia (RSFSR) in 1991. The elections were held between June 16 and July 3 1996. The main competitors were the current President of Russia B. N. Yeltsin and the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, G. A. Zyuganov. The elections were called for by the decision of the Federation Council in December 1995, a few days before the completion of elections to the second convocation of the State Duma.
According to the results of the elections to the State Duma, the Communist Party (CPRF) won the first place with 22 percent, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) took the second place with 12 percent, and the movement “Our Home – Russia” (NDR) supported by the President only won 10 percent. By that time, Russian President Yeltsin had lost its former popularity due to the failure of economic reforms, failures during the Chechen war and corruption scandals in his environment, ratings showed his popularity level between 3-6%. Closer to the New Year the subscription campaigns started for all the candidates.
The law in force at the time required a million signatures in support of each candidate, but allowed collecting signatures in support of the candidate without his consent. In support of Yeltsin, about 10 initiative groups were formed. Yeltsin for a long time did not give consent to the nomination, he announced his positive decision only on February 15. On the same day, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation nominated its leader Zyuganov as a candidate for President of Russia. At the time of the nomination of both candidates, Zyuganov was significantly ahead of Yeltsin by rating, but the gap between them was gradually narrowing.
The director of the “Public Opinion” Foundation, Alexander Oslon, who worked for Yeltsin as a member of the Analytical group, led by Anatoly Chubais, in 2006 wrote that Yeltsin’s victory was achieved through the use of ‘ political technologies ‘. At the beginning of 1996, Yeltsin had a very low level of support among the population: ‘in February, when he announced his participation in future elections, his defeat seemed inevitable’ stated Oslon. According to surveys, 30% of the population expressed complete agreement with the statement ‘under the communists everything was better”, and another 33% partially agreed with this. According to Oslon, in February at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Zyuganov was greeted as an obvious favourite of the elections and the future president of Russia.
The Central Election Commission registered 78 initiative groups for the nomination of a presidential candidates. However, as 1 million of signatures was required in order for a candidate to advanced to next step of the election, only 16 groups passed. According to the results of the signatures, the CEC registered 9 candidates, another seven were refused. Six of them appealed the CEC’s refusal to the Supreme Court. The Court accepted their appeal but only 2 of the 6 were granted approval by the Court. In total there were 11 candidates for the Presidential election.
By the beginning of 1996, Gennady Zyuganov had the highest popularity among the population among other public politicians. This is explained not so much by the personal qualities and merits of G. A. Zyuganov, but by the fact that he personified the best sides of the Soviet power (social guarantees, stability and real sovereignty of the country, etc.), was clearly an alternative to Yeltsin’s. In the figure of Zyuganov, many people saw the “bright past”, the achievements and victories of the Soviet government, which, against the background of the destructive reforms of the 1990s, began to look particularly contrasting. Another strong figure is Alexander Lebed, whom a significant part of the population on the eve of the 1996 elections perceived as a non-communist constructive alternative to Yeltsin.
Grigory Yavlinsky was ideologically an ally of B. Yeltsin, but in this situation, he became his rival, as he took away from him a portion of the votes of the democratically-minded electorate (first of all those who supported market reforms, but didn’t sympathize with Yeltsin’s personality). Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose Liberal Democratic Party at one time gained considerable popularity, but by 1996 was no longer at the zenith of its political glory. The remaining candidates can be considered as “weak figures”, as they were unable to compete with their opponents at all and could take only a very small number of votes.
During the first round of the elections on June 16, despite being in the middle of the summer, the Russians showed high activity. More than 75.7 million Russians took part in the elections, which amounted to 69.81 percent of the number of voters on the lists. More than 800 thousand voters voted for absentee ballots. According to the results of the first round, the current President of Russia Yeltsin showed the best, but far from the necessary majority for the victory, the result, having received 26.6 million votes. In the first round of the presidential elections on June 16, 1996, the votes were divided as follows: Yeltsin – 35.28%; Zyuganov – 32.04%; Swan – 14.5%; Yavlinsky – 7.41%; Zhirinovsky – 5.8%. Each of the five remaining applicants received less than 1% of the vote, including the ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev (0.51%): he did not find a response worldwide in Russia. About 4% of voters voted ‘against all.’ Yeltsin’s very small separation from Zyuganov caused alarm in the president’s entourage: the return of communists to power through democratic means became possible. Yeltsin hurried to introduce General Lebed into his government as Secretary of the Security Council.
After determining the results of the first round of voting, the Central election Commission of the Russian Federation has appointed the second round of voting on Wednesday, July 3, the Russian Government declared this day a public holiday. On the ballot for re-vote were included Yeltsin and Zyuganov. Such an unusual choice of day of voting due to the desire to increase voter turnout.
In the forecasts of a number of political scientists, Yeltsin was the preferred candidate, but it was noted that he had high chances of being elected only if the voter turnout and the support for Alexander Lebed was high enough. Due to the low results of the candidate Yeltsin, even according to official data, the situation deteriorated extremely after the first round of voting. Supporters of the current government and opponents of the communists, who did not want the restoration of Soviet power, united around Boris Yeltsin, as for those who had some nostalgia of the USSR and opposed the current government allied with Gennady Zyuganov. According to the results of the elections, were more than 68% of the voters participated, Yeltsin received 40.2 million votes (53.82%, significantly ahead of Zyuganov, who received 30.1 million votes (40.31%).
3.6 million Russians (4.82%) voted against both candidates. The outcome of the elections in the second round was decided by 14.52% of the votes that Aleksandr Lebed given to Boris Yeltsin. Following the results of the second round of elections, Yeltsin won and was re-elected for a second term. Yeltsin’s support came mainly by the population of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and other major industrial cities, Northern Russia, Siberia, the Far East and Russians living abroad. Zyuganov was supported mainly by residents of poorer rural regions of Central Russia, the Volga region and some republics of the North Caucasus.
Yeltsin was extremely unpopular as a politician, as a result of his activities the country abruptly depleted, lost production capacity and became on the brink of a demographic, economic and geopolitical catastrophe; he was also unpopular as a person. Boris Yeltsin health deteriorated as well, on June 21 1996 between the first and the second round of elections, he almost died, having received the third heart attack. Simply the old energetic and charismatic Yeltsin of the late 80s that the people used to know was no more. The popularity rating of Yeltsin in the early 1996, according to opinion polls, was between 3 and 6%. Boris Yeltsin’s opponents openly called him a ‘political corpse’. The then ruling party, “Our Home, Russia”, won only 9.9% of the votes cast in the State Duma elections held in December 1995, the strongest of the opposition parties, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, was the first with 22.3%.
After the elections, Gleb Pavlovsky of the “Open Policy” Foundation, who worked on the staff of Yeltsin, published the report “The President in 1996: Scenarios and Victory Technologies” (“How we were able to win the 1996 elections. Our approach to the victory of Boris Yeltsin”). According to “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, the report ‘reveals the ingenious technology of manipulating public opinion and original mechanism of political and ideological ahead of the competition. The winning formula: attract resources expert + dominance in the information space + blocking enemy moves + dominance in the media domination of the elites. In the hands of Russian politicians has a new powerful weapon of political struggle — the so-called modern political technologies.
They, of course, existed and were used before. But only the current presidential election fully demonstrated their strength and capabilities. Because modern political techniques applied by professionals who ensured the victory of Boris Yeltsin’. Indeed, one of the features of the presidential campaign was that its tactics were developed entirely by advertising professionals; in other words, the elections turned into an ordinary, though far from ordinary, industry, were ‘put on stream.’ The German researcher T. Beichelt, being an election observer in several Russian regions, in one of his articles focuses on the identified cases of external pressure on voters during the 1996 election campaign, eventually calling into question the holding of “free” elections in Russia.
Thus, he considers the influence of the media on the electorate on the eve of voting one of the instruments of pressure. Here he refers to the report of the European Institute of Mass Media (EIIS), which stated after the election that television paid more attention to the current president than to other candidates. Eberhard Schneider also writes about this in his article “Russian Presidential Election 1996”: “Yeltsin had 53% of television time, Zyuganov had 18%, Lebed had 7%, Yavlinsky had 6%, and Zhirinovsky had 5%, the rest of the candidates together – 11%. Yeltsin’s coverage in the media not only exceeded all permissible norms of equality, but also turned out to be dominant.
Another well-known German political scientist, Eberhard Schneider concludes that ‘the phase of the institutional transformation of Russia from a communist state to a democratic state’ ended with the 1996 presidential election, ‘with the formation of central constitutional bodies and the development of an electoral system based on a democratic constitution’, but notes that in order to further consolidate political ideas, it is necessary to stabilize the party system and the ideas of interests in the form of social and economic alliances, as well as building a civil society that could impede the successes of “dictatorial seizures”.
After winning the 1996 presidential election, Yeltsin and his entourage continued to strengthen and develop the economic and social trends of the previous period. Economic reforms were accompanied by a radical redistribution of property, a serious restructuring, and contradictory socio-economic consequences. The economy, set in conditions of tough international competition, reduced production figures throughout the decade. Reduction in gross domestic product in the period between 1991-1999 amounted to 40%, with the deepest decline, more than 30%, occurred in the first three years of Yeltsin’s rule. Structural restructuring has led to the decline of intensive industries (precision engineering electronics, etc.), as well as light and food industries, and agriculture. But on the leading position the raw capital – fuel and energy, mining and metallurgical, timber and pulp and paper industries – has firmly established itself as their share in total industrial production has tripled.
- Hough, J., Davidheiser, E. and Lehmann, S. (1996). The 1996 Russian presidential election. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
- McFAUL, M. (1999). Lessons from Russia’s Protracted Transition from Communist Rule. Political Science Quarterly, 114(1), pp.103-130.
- Oslon, A., Zusmanovich, B. and Petrenko, E. (2002). Yeltsin Era: Opinions of Russians. Moscow: ‘Public Opinion’ Fund.
- Yeltsin, B. (2000). Presidential marathon: Reflections, memories, impressions…. Moscow: AST.