On the federal level, Russia elects a president as head of state and a legislature, one of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The president is elected for, at most, two consecutive six-year terms by the people (raised from four years from December 2008). The Federal Assembly (Federalnoe Sobranie) has two chambers. The State Duma (Gosudarstvennaja Duma) has 450 members, elected for five-year terms (also four years up to December 2008), all of them by proportional representation. The Federation Council (Sovet Federatsii) is not directly elected; each of the 85 federal subjects of Russia sends 2 delegates to the Federal Council, for a total of 170 members.
Since 1990, there have been six elections for the presidency and seven for parliament.
In the parliamentary elections, the Communist Party was the largest party in the 1995 and 1999 elections, with 35% and 24% of the votes respectively. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has ranged from 5 to 15% of the votes, and Yabloko won 10% of the votes in 1995 and around 5% in the other three elections. The only other parties that have achieved more than 10% of the votes have been Democratic Choice of Russia with 16% in 1993, Our Home – Russia with 12% in 1995, and, in 1999, Unity with 23%, Fatherland – All Russia with 13% and People's Deputies Faction with 15%. United Russia, an alliance of Unity and Fatherland – All Russia, became the biggest party with 38% in 2003.
The President is elected in a two-round system every six years, with a two consecutive term limitation. Prior to 2012, the term of office was four years. If no candidate wins by an absolute majority in the first round, a second election round is held between two candidates with the most votes. The last presidential election was in 2012, and the next is expected in 2018.
Since Vladimir Putin became President of Russia there has been increasing international criticism of the conduct of Russian elections. European institutions who observed the December 2007 legislative elections concluded that these were not fair elections. Göran Lennmarker, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that the elections "failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have. It was not a fair election."Luc Van den Brande, who headed a delegation from the Council of Europe, referred to the "overwhelming influence of the president's office and the president on the campaign" and said there was "abuse of administrative resources" designed to influence the outcome. He also said there were "flaws in the secrecy of the vote." "Effectively, we can't say these were fair elections," he said at a news conference.
In February 2008 The human rights organisation Amnesty International said that the presidential election on 2 March would not be a genuine election: "There is no real opposition ahead of the election. There is no real electoral campaign battle," Friederike Behr, Amnesty's Russia researcher, was quoted as saying. In a report on the elections, Amnesty said laws restricting non-government organizations, police breaking up demonstrations, and harassment from critics were all part of "a systematic destruction of civil liberties in Russia." Another human rights organisation, Freedom House, said that the victory of Putin's party in the 2007 elections "was achieved under patently unfair and non-competitive conditions calling into doubt the result’s legitimacy."
The Russian government has acted to prevent international observers monitoring Russian elections. In 2007 the OSCE was prevented from monitoring the legislative elections held in December. In February 2008 the European Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights announced that it would not send observers to monitor the presidential election on 2 March, citing what it called "severe restrictions" imposed on its work by the Russian government. "We made every effort in good faith to deploy our mission, even under the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities", said Christian Strohal, the organization’s director. "The Russian Federation has created limitations that are not conducive to undertaking election observation". The OSCE has also withdrawn its attempts to monitor the elections.
The 2011 Russian legislative elections were considered to be rigged in favor of the ruling party by a number of journalists and opposition representatives. However public opinion-polls prior to the election suggested that the ruling party could count on the support of 45–55 percent of voters, which may suggest that there were no mass falsifications, despite isolated cases of fraud. Nationwide exit polls were very close to the final results.
In 2015 OSCE called the Russian government to respect and support the work of independent election observers, following a number of incidents where citizen observers were beaten or harassed in regional elections.