07/02/2008 - Analysis
The Russians are being called to ballot on 2nd March next to appoint their future President and the successor to the present Head of State Vladimir Putin. This is the 4th presidential election since the fall of the USSR in 1991. The elected candidate will become the 3rd president of the Federation of Russia after Boris Yelstin and Vladimir Putin (2000-2008).
According to the Russian Constitution the presidential election takes place on the second Sunday in March after the general elections. If the Sunday comes the day after a bank holiday the election has to be organised on the first Sunday in the month. Since 8th March is International Women's Day and a holiday in Russia, the presidential election will take place on 2nd March.
In the wake of the landslide victory by Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia (Edinaïa Rossia, ER), in the general elections on 2nd December last (64.3% of the vote) and the appointment of his successor by Vladimir Putin himself on 10th December – in the shape of Dmitri Medvedev, victory on 2nd March by the present 1st Deputy Prime Minister seems to be certain.
11 regions of the Federation will elect the regional representatives on the same day. The electoral campaign officially started on 2nd February.
The Presidential Role in Russia
Elected for four years the President of Russia enjoys great power. As Head of the Executive he appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister; he can dissolve the lower House of Parliament, the Duma; he submits draft laws to Parliament and proposes referenda. He also decides on appointments within the army and the secret services; he appoints judges at the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Auditors' Court, and the Supreme Court of Arbitration. He cannot be elected for more than two successive terms in office.
All candidates must be aged at least 35 and have been living in Russia for a minimum of ten years. Hence Vladimir Bukovski, former Russian dissident of the Soviet regime, who has been living in exile in London since 1976 when he was 'exchanged' for Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan, was refused the right to stand in the election.
According to the new electoral law of 2005 any candidate whose party is not represented in the Duma must rally the signatures of at least 500 supporters and also collate the signatures of 2 million voters. These have to be collected in at least half of the country. The obligatory participation threshold of a minimum 50% was repealed in the same way as the possibility to vote "against all candidates".
Four people are standing at present – i.e. three less than during the election on 14th March 2003 and the lowest number ever recorded:
- Dmitri Medvedev (ER), 42 years old, 1st Deputy Prime Minister in the government led by Viktor Zubkov. He has the support of Fair Russia (SR) led by Serguey Mironov, Citizens' Force and the Agrarian Party (APR) led by Vladimir Plotnikov;
- Gennady Zyuganov (Communist Party, KPRF), 63 years old, founder and leader of the party, the main opposition party in the Duma;
- Vladimir Jirinovski (Liberal Democratic Party, LDPR), 61 years old, nationalist and populist leader who always votes in favour of the laws passed by the Kremlin;
- Andreï Bogdanov (Democratic Party of Russia, DPR), 37 years old.
Of these four candidates Andrei Bogdanov is the only one who had to collate 2 million signatures since his party only won 0.13% in the general elections on 2nd December last.
Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the People's Democratic Union was refused the right to stand on 27th January last since the Electoral Commission said that 80,147 of the 2,067,000 signatures he had collated, i.e. 13.36% of the total were invalid, i.e. over the 5% threshold allowed. Former Prime Minister to Vladimir Putin from 2000-2004, Mikhail Kasyanov now stands in the opposition. He maintains that two events, the Yukos Affair (25th October 2003, Mikhail Kodorkovski, the former head of the oil company YukosSibneft was arrested. At present he is serving an 8 year prison sentence for tax fraud. On 19th December 2004 after the Russian tax authorities demanded back payment of taxes to a total of three billion dollars and the company declared it was bankrupt, Yuganskneftegas, Yukos's main subsidiary was auctioned off) and the taking of hostages in Beslan (1st September 2004 by terrorists held hundreds of children and adults hostage for in a school in Beslan, Northern Ossetia. Special Russian forces attacked after a three day siege. As a result 344 people died including 186 children), opened his eyes to the true nature of the present regime. Mikhail Kasyanov is rather unpopular amongst the Russians who suspect him of corruption whilst he was in power. "The country has now finally started down a slippery path to totalitarianism with an illegitimate government that cannot be replaced. This election will be a farce. I am calling on citizens not to vote, not to take part in this farce," he declared after the Electoral Commission refused to register him.
"The authorities were not afraid he would win because the Kremlin's candidate Dmitri Medvedev is much more popular. But Mikhail Kasyanov could have started to criticise the government on television with strong arguments to support him," maintains political analyst Mark Ornov. The decision taken by the Russian authorities may also be interpreted as a desire to divide the opposition forces to an even greater degree.
Former Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhaïl Gorbatchev, protested against the Electoral Commission's decision. "We need to make changes to our electoral system," he said. Although he has often congratulated Vladimir Putin with regard to his government and the country's economic results on several occasions Mr Gorbatchev has expressed his concerns about the lack of tolerance on the part of the authorities with regard to political opposition and the lack of independent media.
An election that has already been settled
Dmitri Medvedev was appointed United Russia's (ER) candidate during the 7th party congress on 17th December last. A few days before his official appointment he had asked the Russian President to become his Prime Minister. "By declaring myself ready to stand in the presidential election I shall ask Vladimir Putin to accept the government of Russia after the election of the new President," he declared on 11th December, adding, "It is important to protect the efficacy of the team formed by the present President." On 17th December, the outgoing Head of State replied: "if the people grant Dmitir Medvedev their confidence and he is elected President of the Federation then I shall be ready to continue as Head of Government without any changes being made to the attribution of power between the President and the Prime Minister."
At the end of January the president of the Council of the Federation, the Upper House, and leader of Fair Russia, Serguey Mironov suggested that Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev relay each other to occupy the Kremlin until ...2033 and yet still respect the spirit of the Constitution which does not allow more than two consecutive mandates.
"To start with it is almost certain the Vladimir Putin will have enormous influence over Russian politics. But what will follow is unknown. Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev have maybe made a pact whereby the present president will take up his place in the Kremlin again in one or two years time," says political analyst Vladimir Pribylovski.
Dmitri Medvedev has spent his entire career in the shadow of Vladimir Putin who he met at the town council of Saint-Petersburg – his home town as well as that of the present president. In 1999, he followed him to Moscow to undertake his electoral campaign. Appointed chairman of the Board of Gazprom in June 2000 he then became head of the presidential office in 2003. In November 2005, he was appointed 1st Deputy Prime Minister responsible for major national projects.
The Kremlin's official candidate is promising stability, continuity, the fight against corruption, improvements in the healthcare and educational systems, the agricultural sector, the level of retirement pensions and the quality of accommodation. "We need to reduce poverty substantially. It is vital for our country to continue to develop calmly and in a stable manner. We simply need decades of stable development of which our country was deprived during the 20th century," stresses Dmitri Medvedev. Vladimir Putin has said that he will retain control of economic policy whilst Dmitri Medvedev will concentrate on social policy. "It is no longer a matter of fighting terrorism or re-establishing order in Chechnya or in the ranks of the army. Priorities are now focussed on the country's economic and social development. It is Dmitri Medvedev's task to improve Russian living standards," declared Leonid Poliakov, a political analyst and Kremlin sympathiser.
Dmitri Medvedev has refused to take part in TV debates with other candidates during the electoral campaign which Vladimir Putin and the United Russia candidates also did before him in the previous presidential and general elections. According to a poll undertaken by Levada at the end of January 73% of the Russians think that Dmitri Medvedev should take part in pre-electoral debates.
As for the other candidates, Gennady Zyuganov is proposing the nationalisation of natural resources and is promising a reduction in inflation, a rise in wages, the creation of jobs and an improvement in the infrastructures. Vladimir Jirinovski is standing as the defender of Russia against foreign enemies and is advising for a strengthening of the armed forces as well as greater support to agriculture and an improvement in housing. Finally Andrei Bogdanov supports his country's accession to the European Union in the next ten years, an increase in wages and retirement pensions. The three candidates are also committed to the anti-corruption campaign. According to a poll in the summer 2007 by Levada 43% of Russians believe that corruption comprises the main obstacle to their country's economic development.
According to a poll on 26th and 27th January by VTsIOM, Dmitri Medvedev is due to win 74% of the vote, Guennady Zyuganov 12.8%, Vladimir Jirinovski 11.5% and Andrei Bogdanov 0.9%. Turn out should rise to 70.7%. The poll also shows that Vladimir Putin is still the person the Russians trust the most: his confidence rating stands at 60% in comparison with 30% for Dmitri Medvedev.
"In this presidential election it is a matter of convincing voters that by electing Dmitri Medvedev they are in fact electing Vladimir Putin," indicates political analyst Dmitir Gusev. The operation already seems destined to be a success.
Reminder of the presidential election results – 14th March 2004 in Russia
Turn out: 64.27%
Source: agence France Presse