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Russia - Presidential Election

Presidential Election in Russia, an overview just one week before voting starts

Presidential Election in Russia, an overview just one week before voting starts

02/03/2007 - D-7

On 2nd March next 107 million Russians are being called to ballot to elect the successor to the present President of the Federation, Vladimir Putin, who, as stipulated by the Constitution, cannot stand for a third consecutive term in office. There is not a great deal at play in this presidential election, since Vladimir Putin appointed Dmitri Medvedev - the present 1st Deputy Prime Minister (United Russia, ER), as his successor on 10th December last. It is highly likely that the latter will be easily elected as Head of State in the first round.

96, 277 polling stations will be open in Russia and 364 abroad. Early voting started on 15th February.

4 candidates are running in the presidential race:
- 42 year-old Dmitri Medvedev (United Russia, ER), present 1st Deputy Prime Minister in the government led by Viktor Zubkov and successor appointed by outgoing Head of State, Vladimir Putin. He is supported by Fair Russia (SR) led by Sergueï Mironov, Citizens' Strength and the Agrarian Party (APR) led by Vladimir Plotnikov;
- 63 year-old Guennadi Ziuganov (Communist Party, KPRF), founder and leader of the first opposition party in the Duma;
- 61 year-old Vladimir Jirinovski (Liberal Democratic Party, LDPR), a nationalist, populist leader who always votes for the laws put forward by the Kremlin;
- 37 year-old Andreï Bogdanov (Democratic Party of Russia, DPR).

"For eight years I have worked night and day like a slave on a galley. I am happy with the results," declared Vladimir Putin on 14th February when summarizing his two terms in office. He said he was pleased that he had succeeded in bringing Chechnya into Russia's fold and of having put an end to the power held by the oligarchs. "We have re-established the Rule of Law in the country," he indicated. Maintaining that democracy comprised "one of Russia's mainstays," he did however criticise the political parties "funded from abroad," implying a great number of the opposition parties, who "behave in an immoral manner and dishonour the Russian people." Vladimir Putin highlighted his socio-economic results: 8.1% GDP growth in 2007, a reduction in unemployment, the end of the flight of capital and an improvement in living standards (+10.4%) and wages (+16.2%) whilst in "1999 Russia was almost bankrupt." He spoke of his concerns with regard to a rise in inflation (12% in 2007), low labour productivity and Russia's dependency on its oil resources. He deplored the continuing levels of corruption in the country. He threatened to aim missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if the USA deploys its antimissile shield in these two countries and even at the Ukraine if the latter joined NATO, "whilst most of the population is against this measure," he said. "We withdrew our bases from Cuba and Vietnam. But what have we received in return," the outgoing President asked, concluding, "we shall be obliged to re-direct our missiles towards targets that in our opinion may threaten our national security." Finally he maintained that the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo was "immoral and illegal".
According to political analyst Alexander Golts Vladimir Putin was directly addressing the Europeans in this speech warning them against the USA. "This speech provides the Russians with a feeling that they are a besieged fortress for whom they will rally around Vladimir Putin and his successor. This also opens the way to suggesting an alternative agenda to the West: pointing nuclear warheads against targets instead of taking care of matters which are unpleasant to Russia such as human rights, freedom of speech and the transmission of power," he maintained.
When speaking of his future and his work with Dmitri Medvedev as Head of State Vladimir Putin said he was ready to become Prime Minister. "There are enough prerogatives and I shall share them with Dmitri Medvedev. I am happy at the thought of being able to work in another position, to serve my country under another title," he stressed. However the outgoing President has interpreted the Russian Constitution in an extremely personal manner saying that the "Russian government is the supreme executive power in Russia," and that "the Constitution offers wide ranging prerogatives to the government." Amongst these he included the budget, defence, security, economic policy and international relations.
Officially the executive lies in the hands of the President who enjoys major powers: he appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister, he can dissolve the lower Chamber of Parliament, the Duma, he submits draft laws to Parliament and suggests referenda. He decides who to appoint in the army, the security services and who the judges in the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Auditors' Court and the Supreme Arbitration Court will be.
"Our country was and still is a presidential republic. It cannot be otherwise. A State like this can only function under a strong presidential system, whoever sits in the Kremlin. Russia has always grown around a strong executive and vertical power. It is my firm belief that Russia would disappear if it changed over to being a Parliamentary Republic," declared Dmitri Medvedev in the magazine Itogui. "There cannot be 2, 3 or 5 centres of power. It is the president who governs in Russia and according to the Constitution there can only be one President," he added. With regard to democracy he said, "one of the main issues at stake which Russia has to face up to is to succeed in reconciling national tradition with our fundamental values." These are quite surprising statements just one week before the election. "Vladimir Putin and I understand each other very well," the candidate also said but adding, "this couple will only work if there is total confidence between us."
On 15th February last Dmitri Medvedev presented his electoral programme which focuses on four "i's": institutions, infrastructures, innovation and investments. He announced that he would set up a 14 billion dollar plan to double retirement pensions and increase wages. "Russia has changed, it has become richer and stronger. We are respected and our opinion counts. No-one gives us moral lessons anymore as if we were schoolchildren," he declared. "The time when Russia was just an extra in the international arena is over. If everything goes according to plan within the next 15 years our country will become one of the five biggest economies in the world," he added. He gave a speech that was qualified as "liberal" by some observers. "Russia is a federal country with high potential but it has many problems and they are not small ones. Most bureaucrats sitting in the administrative councils should not be there. A great share of posts undertaken by public organisations should be handed over to the private sector," he stressed.

According to a study by the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Dmitri Medvedev, the Kremlin's official candidate, is taking up over half of the time dedicated to the electoral campaign in the media. This study was undertaken on five TV channels between 10th January and 1st February. None of the other three candidates running in the presidential election has more than 10% airtime.
Dmitri Medvedev has received the support of the Orthodox Church. "A couple like this (Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev) will be a benediction for Russia," declared Patriarch Alexis II. He is supported by the Trade Union Association of Russia Sotsprof, the second biggest union in Russia.

The Kremlin's candidate greatest rival, Gennady Ziuganov, (Communist Party, KPRF) presented his electoral programme. "We want the most important sectors in the economy to be returned to the State. Starting with electricity and ending with the railway and telecommunications systems," he said. He wants to double teachers' and doctors' salaries and is accusing the government of undertaking a war against the Russian people by encouraging demographic decline. "Russia-phobia literally exudes from all of the present government's pores," he stressed. "Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev are totally irresponsible," he maintains accusing Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev of having destroyed industry and the Welfare State. He is calling for a reunification of Russia with neighbouring Belarus and Kazakhstan.
He is due to come second on 2nd March. "As during the last general elections some of the liberals (who don't have a candidate and who want to show their opposition via their vote) will vote for the Communist candidate," maintains political analyst Dmitri Orechkin.
For his part Mikhaïl Kassianov, leader of the People's Democratic Union (RNDS) who was refused the right to stand in the presidential election on 27th January (the Electoral Commission said that 13.36% of the 2,067,000 signatures he had collated in order to stand were not valid), is calling for a boycott of the election.

On 7th February last the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) decided to cancel its observation mission due to the "restrictions imposed by the authorities". The latter said that they would not receive more than 75 observers and that they should not arrive in Russia more than three to four days before the election. Usually observers move in to the field two months around before the election. During the last general elections on 2nd December only 70 OSCE observers were accepted by Russia. "Let them stay at home and teach their wives how to make chtchi (cabbage soup)," declared Vladimir Putin on 14th February.
Another unusual occurrence if Dmitir Medvedev is elected president in the first round as expected, the funds planned for the second round will be distributed to the members of the electoral commission. Traditionally this money is handed out to major national causes such as for example, cancer treatment.
According to a poll undertaken by Levada maintaining order and the respect of the law should be a major priority of presidential activities. Nearly one Russian in two (45%) is of this opinion. 41% of those interviewed mention redistribution of wealth, 37% of continuing reforms, notably social ones, 34% speak of strengthening the role played by the State in the economy. One Russian in two (48%) believes that the result of the election has been decided by the country's authorities and half of those interviewed (50%) believe that Western democracy is not a form of government adapted to Russia.

The most recent poll by VTsIOM on 18th February reveals that 69.9% of voters are about to vote for Dmitri Medvedev. Gennady Ziuganov is due to win 9.1% of the vote, Vladimir Jirinovski 7.8% and Andreï Bogdanov 0.9%.

If on 2nd March Dmitri Medvedev becomes President of the Federation of Russia he will be after Alexander Kerensky (Prime Minister between July and November 1917) the youngest leader that Russia has ever known.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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