The December 2003 parliamentary and the March 2004 presidential elections witnessed worrisomely lopsided victories for incumbent president Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin-backed United Russia party. These victories were assisted by an unlevel electoral playing field. Russia's political system has become less pluralistic on Putin's watch. During his first term, Putin did little to strengthen democratic institutions and much to weaken them. These antidemocratic political "reforms" made it more difficult for opponents of the regime to compete effectively in the 2003-2004 electoral cycle. Nevertheless, these ballots also demonstrated the extent to which elections in Russia have become thoroughly institutionalized, and that they make more difficult the consolidation of authoritarianism.