Russian presidential election, 1996

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Russian presidential election, 1996

← 1991 16 June 1996 (first round)
3 July 1996 (second round)
2000 →
Turnout 69.7% Decrease 5 pp (first round)
68.8% Decrease 0.9 pp (second round)

  Борис Николаевич Ельцин.jpg Gennady Zyuganov Moscow asv2018-01 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Boris Yeltsin Gennady Zyuganov
Party Independent Communist Party
Home state Moscow Moscow
Popular vote 40,203,948 30,102,288
Percentage 54.4% 40.7%

Red belt in Russian 1996 presidential elections.svg
  Regions in which the second round of elections were won by Boris Yeltsin
  Regions in which the second round of elections were won by Gennady Zyuganov

President before election

Boris Yeltsin

Elected President

Boris Yeltsin

Presidential elections were held in Russia on 16 June 1996, with a second round on 3 July. The result was a victory for the incumbent President Boris Yeltsin, who ran as an independent. Yeltsin defeated Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov in the run-off, receiving 54.4% of the vote. His inauguration ceremony took place on 9 August. There have been claims that the election was fraudulent, favoring Yeltsin.[1] The 1996 Russian election was also notable for the actions of U.S. President Bill Clinton and his administration to support Yeltsin's reelection campaign.[2][3]


Following December 1995, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation had achieved dominance in the State Duma. On 9 January 1996, Chechen rebels seized thousands of hostages in Dagestan, and Yeltsin's response was viewed as a failure. The Russian economy was still contracting and many workers had been unpaid for months.[4]

President Yeltsin's public opinion was at a historical low point, a fifth place among presidential candidates, with only 8 percent support, while Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov was in the lead with 21 percent. When Zyuganov showed up at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in February 1996, Western leaders lined up to meet him. Major world media treated him as the likely next president of Russia.[4]

Voter invitation card for the election

This tendency made the oligarchs fearful of Yeltsin's departure and replacement by the Communist Party leader, thus threatening their recently acquired wealth. As a result, in Davos, Boris Berezovsky reconciled himself with Vladimir Gusinsky to make a united front against Zyuganov in the upcoming June election. Before leaving Davos, they had dinner with Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Menatep Bank and Yukos Oil, and Vladimir Vinogradov of Inkombank, and the four forged the "Davos Pact". Returning to Moscow, they added in Vladimir Potanin, Alexander Smolensky, Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven. They held a series of meetings and decided to let Anatoly Chubais in charge of a new campaign organization for Yeltsin's reelection.[4]

On 15 March 1996, the Duma passed a bill condemning the December 1991 agreement among Yeltsin and the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus as illegal. Due to this, Yeltsin considered cancelling the election.[citation needed] However, because of the lack of loyalty among the military, Yeltsin was persuaded by Chubais, Pavel Grachev and Anatoly Kulikov not to cancel the election.[4]


With low support, Yeltsin resorted to some means to realize the turnaround: money, control of the mass media, use of "black arts" to disrupt the Communists' campaign and manipulation of the vote count.[4] Russia's electoral law limited campaign spending to $3 million for each candidate. The Communist Party did not have the financial resources to overspend the limit. However, estimates of the funds spent by the Yeltsin campaign range from $700 million to $2 billion. A huge amount of money was raised by oligarchs and other business interests. An even larger sum was made available indirectly by the West. Urged by the United States, the International Monetary Fund granted a $10.2 billion loan to Russia in February and enabled the government to spend huge sums paying long-owed back wages and pensions to millions of Russians, with some overdue checks arriving shortly before the June election.[4]

Yeltsin campaigning in the Moscow-region on May 7, 1996

By the first half of 1996, all of the major mass media, both electronic and print, were controlled either by oligarchs or the state. It waged an information war in favor of Yeltsin and against Zyuganov. It sent messages that if Zyuganov elected, Russia would be sent back to the days of Stalin's gulag, reinforced by long television documentaries about the Stalin era repressions. The media also implied that if Communists take the presidency, a coup d'état by Yeltsin and a civil war would follow.[4]

The tactics adopted by Chubais campaign team included cancellation of hotel reservations made by the Zyuganov campaign, issuing false invitations to Zyuganov press conferences with the wrong times, and the publication and distribution of fake extremist Communist programs.[4]

Yeltsin campaign advertisements on the Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad subway station in June 1996

The first round of election began on 16 June 1996. Two days after the first round, Yeltsin appointed former general Alexander Lebed, who had finished third with 14.7% of vote, to the post of Secretary of Security Council of the Russian Federation and the President's National Security Advisor.[5] Lebed in turn endorsed Yeltsin in the runoff election. Meanwhile, Yeltsin suffered from a serious heart attack and disappeared from public view. His condition was kept secret through 3 July second round election. During this period of time, Yeltsin's campaign team created a "virtual Yeltsin" shown in the media through staged interviews that never happened and pre-recorded radio addresses.[4]


Vladimir Bryntsalov

Mikhail Gorbachev

Svyatoslav Fyodorov

Alexander Lebed

General Alexander Lebed ran as the nominee of the Congress of Russian Communities. Lebed promoted himself as an authoritative leader that would introduce law and order, tackle corruption and allow capitalism to blossom.[6][7]

Martin Shakkum

Yury Vlasov

Aman Tuleyev

Independent candidate Aman Tuleyev styled himself as a "Muslim Communist".[8] Nonetheless, he failed to receive backing from major muslim organizations. Islamic Cultural Center and the Union of Muslims of Russia backed Yeltsin and Yur backed Yavlinsky[8] Tuleyev dropped out of the race before the election, but remained on the ballot.

Grigory Yavlinsky

Grigory Yavlinsky ran as the nominee of Yabloko. On January 27, in his speech officially accepting Yabloko's nomination, Yavlinsky included overtures to Lebed. Yavlinsky stated discussions about forming a coalition were underway with both Yegor Gaidar's party Democratic Choice of Russia and Lebed's party Congress of Russian Communities.[9] At the time, Sergei Kovalev, a former Yeltsin ally who had recently sided as a strong critic of the president, remarked that Yavlkinsky's proposal for a coalition with Congress of Russian Communities was a risky proposition.[9]

In mid-march Yavlinsky delivered what was, up to that point, the most strongly anti-communist speech of his campaign. Yavilinsky stated that a communist victory would threaten Russian's rights to practice free speech and own property. He quoted the communists own program, which stated "The aim of the Russian Communist party is the Communist future of the whole of mankind." Yavlinsky warned, "If the Communists come to power, things will only get worse" He predicted that Zhirinosky would withdraw from the race before the election, benefiting the two frontrunners. He predict that if no other major changes occurred, Zyuganov was going to win the election. Yavlinsky promised to withdraw his candidacy if another qualified candidate entered the race. He mentioned Boris Nemtsov, who had already declined to run, as one individual he'd step aside for.[10]

At the beginning of April, a committee was formed by a number of reformist leaders to support, and unify around, Yavlinsky's candidacy. The committee was formed by Yelena Bonner (wife of Andrei Sakharov), Sergei Kovalev, Ella Pamfilova and Arkady Murashev. They supported Yavilnsky as offering an alternative to Yeltsin, and proclaimed Yavlinsky's to have the best chance at defeating Zyuganov.[10]

In terms of economics, Yavlinksy occupied the far-right of the Russian political spectrum. His ideology most strongly appealed to Russia's population of young intellectuals.[7]

Yavlinsky was strongly against the military conflict in Chechnya. This aspect of his platform appealed strongly to many democratic voters.[6][11]

Boris Yeltsin

Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Gennedy Zyuganov


It has been alleged that Yeltsin may not have legitimately won the 1996 presidential election, but instead employed electoral fraud. Some results, largely from Russia's ethnic republics of Tatarstan, Dagestan and Bashkortostan, showed highly unlikely changes in voting patterns between the two rounds of voting.[12][13] However, these results are unlikely to have had a material effect on the outcome.[14]

At a meeting with opposition leaders in 2012, then-president Dmitri Medvedev was reported to have said, "There is hardly any doubt who won [that race]. It was not Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin."[1][15]

Opinion polls


Candidate Party First round Second round
Votes % Votes %
Boris Yeltsin Independent 26,665,495 35.8 40,203,948 54.4
Gennady Zyuganov Communist Party 24,211,686 32.5 30,102,288 40.7
Alexander Lebed Congress of Russian Communities 10,974,736 14.7
Grigory Yavlinsky Yabloko 5,550,752 7.4
Vladimir Zhirinovsky Liberal Democratic Party 4,311,479 5.8
Svyatoslav Fyodorov Party of Workers' Self-Government 699,158 0.9
Mikhail Gorbachev Independent 386,069 0.5
Martin Shakkum Independent 277,068 0.4
Yury Vlasov Independent 151,282 0.2
Vladimir Bryntsalov Russian Socialist Party 123,065 0.2
Aman Tuleyev[A 1] Independent 308 0.0
Against all 1,163,921 1.6 3,604,462 4.9
Invalid/blank votes 1,072,120 780,592
Total 75,587,139 100 74,691,290 100
Registered voters/turnout 108,495,023 69.7 108,589,050 68.8
Source: Nohlen & Stöver,[16] Colton[17]

See also


  1. ^ Withdrew his candidacy before the election, but received 308 votes during the early voting (up to the withdrawal of the candidature), which were credited as valid.


  1. ^ a b "Rewriting Russian History: Did Boris Yeltsin Steal the 1996 Presidential Election?". Time. 24 February 2012. 
  2. ^ Agrawal, Nina (21 December 2016). The U.S. is no stranger to interfering in the elections of other countries. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  3. ^ Kramer, Michael (15 July 1996). Rescuing Boris. Time. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i David M. Kotz. Russia's Path From Gorbachev To Putin. pp. 260–264. 
  5. ^ Law-and-Order Candidate Finds Himself in Role of Kingmaker, by CAROL J. WILLIAMS, Los Angeles Times, 18 June 1996
  6. ^ a b Smith, Kathleen E. (2002). Mythmaking in the New Russia. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 
  7. ^ a b The 1996 Russian presidential election / Jerry F. Hough, Evelyn Davidheiser, Susan Goodrich Lehmann. Brookings occasional papers.
  8. ^ a b Witte, John; Bourdeaux, Michael. Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: The New War for Souls. p. 127. 
  9. ^ a b "Russian Election Watch, February 9, 1996". February 9, 1996. Archived from the original on 2000-01-29. Retrieved 2018-01-01. 
  10. ^ a b "Russian Election Watch, April 8, 1996". April 8, 1996. Archived from the original on 2000-01-04. Retrieved 2018-01-02. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Russian Elections: An Oxymoron of Democracy" (PDF). CALTECH/MIT VOTING TECHNOLOGY PROJECT. Mar 2008. pp. 2–7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. 
  13. ^ M. Steven Fish (2005). Democracy Derailed in Russia: The Failure of Open Politics. Cambridge University Press. p. 33. 
  14. ^ Jerry F. Hough (2001). The Logic of Economic Reform in Russia. Brookings Institution. pp. 186–7. 
  15. ^ "Breaking News: Russian Electoral Fraud Existed Prior to Putin". Forbes. 25 February 2012. Archived from the original on 11 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Nohlen, D; Stöver, P (2010). Elections in Europe: A data handbook. p. 1642. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7. 
  17. ^ Timothy J Colton (2000). Transitional Citizens: Voters and What Influences Them in the New Russia. President and Fellows of Harvard College. pp. 234–5. 
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