Presidential Election Russia, an unsurprising election


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


6 February 2012

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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

Presidential Election Russia, an unsurprising election

PDF | 269 koIn English

On 24th September 2011 Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin (United Russia, ER) said he wanted Dmitry Medvedev to lead United Russia's list in the general elections that took place on 4th December last, and then Dmitry Medvedev said he was going to support the outgoing Prime Minister's bid in the presidential election on 4th March 2012, with Vladimir Putin promising to grant the post of Prime Minister to Dmitry Medvedev when he was elected head of State. "In no uncertain terms I want to say that we came to an agreement some years ago about what we would do," declared Vladimir Putin. Russia's main leaders have therefore decided to exchange posts, a tactic, that according to the polls, deeply displeased many Russians. "We have not seen behaviour like this since Stalin and his personality cult," declared political expert Gleb Pavlovsky. "The elections have never been turned into a farce like this," maintains Stanislas Belkovsky, the founder and director of the National Strategy Institute and the communication company Politech.

Nothing will be at stake therefore in the presidential election on 4th March next, since victory for Vladimir Putin seems already to have been decided. Some issues remain however: will the outgoing Prime Minister be elected in the first round? And above all what will happen after the election?

General Elections under Challenge

On 4th December 2011 Dmitry Medvedev's and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia (ER) won the general elections taking 49.32% of the vote, i.e. 238 of the 450 seats in the Duma, the lower chamber of Parliament. These were the weakest results ever recorded by ER. Moreover their announcement was the source of great anger on the part of some of the population who denounced electoral fraud. This was accompanied by a strong movement of protest, the strongest since Putin took power in 2000.

On 10th December around 50,000 people demonstrated, with a white ribbon in their buttonhole (Belatenta) in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow demanding the cancellation of the election. On 24th December again 85,000 turned out to demonstrate in Andrey Sakharov Ave against the electoral fraud that took place on 4th December and the arrests and the sentencing of some demonstrators to firm prison sentences – they also demanded Vladimir Putin's resignation. The movement spread to the provinces, a rare event in Russia: St Petersburg, Gorno-Altaysk, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Perm, Nizhniy Novgorod, Bryansk and Arkhangelsk.

Opposition to Vladimir Putin's regime is quite diverse and sometimes the tension is high between the leaders of the various movements. The demonstrations rallied those close to the far left, communists, liberals, nationalists, those fighting corruption, like blogger Alexey Navalny, to whom we owe the expression "a party of thieves and con-men" (partiya vorov i zhulikov)" given to United Russia; Navalny was also the creator of the community web site in 2010 RosPil (pillage of Russia), which condemns the embezzlement of public goods and corruption. This is said to represent some $300 billion, i.e. one third of the State's budget. Navalny became famous by revealing the financial embezzlement that the VTB, an 85% State-owned bank was undertaking – likewise Transneft, the company that has a monopoly over the oil-pipelines, accused of stealing €2.9 billion during the building of the Siberia-Pacific pipeline. On 5th December the blogger was arrested by the police and imprisoned for two weeks. Agreement seems to be impossible between the liberals, nationalists and even the communists and no leader has really emerged from this protest movement. The politicians present in the demonstrations also irritated the crowd.

"The lack of a political figure behind whom the movement might rally is its greatest weakness and yet its greatest strength," says political expert Andrey Grachev, former spokesperson (1990-1991) of the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1985-1991) Mikhail Gorbachev during perestroika.

On 31st January around fifty opponents, including Eduard Limonov, who was excluded from the presidential race, were arrested during a demonstration that had not been given permission to rally in Moscow (on 31st of each month, of those which have 31 days, a demonstration is organised to defend article 31 of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom to assemble). On 1st February a 140m2 banner bearing the slogan "Putin, get out" and a caricature of the Prime Minister, who had been crossed out in black, was attached to a building just opposite the Kremlin on a quay next to the Moskva. Another demonstration took place on 4th February between October Square and Bolotnaya Square.

"The general elections on 4th December 2011 did not respect electoral standards," declared the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) whose mission it was to observe the election. It witnessed various infringements (ballot stuffing, multiple voting, etc.) and deplored the hundreds of arrests of opposition militants who wanted to demonstrate on the day. Moreover many videos showing massive infringement operations were put on-line and seen by millions of Russians. "What we saw on the TV never existed in the past" maintained journalist Yulia Latynina. The internet penetration rate in Russia is 46%, so 52.9 million people have access to the world web at least once a month. Another new phenomenon was the response given by Patriarch Kirill of the Orthodox Church, who defended the demonstrators, whom he said were "acting in legitimate protest" against the corruption of the elites. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev declared his "shame" of having supported Vladimir Putin in 2000 and said "I would advise Mr Putin to leave now."

The Prime Minister has said that polling stations will be equipped with cameras on 4thMarch. "The latter will not enable the filming of the counting process, the recording of the results and the conditions of their storage," stresses Heidi Tagliavini, head of the OSCE's Russian observation mission.

Although Putin is far from having been ousted from power, his relationship with the Russian people has changed. "The myth of the omnipotent Vladimir Putin has collapsed," said a blogger on radio "Moscow Echo" on 16th December. Indeed the Russians seem to have freed themselves from a certain kind of fear. Moreover electoral fraud is not the only cause of discontent and the only reason for bringing demonstrators out on the street. The Russian middle class, that is rising rapidly, is increasingly expressing its discontent with the regime in office, whose inefficacy and corruption it criticises. This was a factor that enabled the Communist Party (KPRF) and Fair Russia (SR) to improve their results in the general elections (the two parties won 19.19% and 13.24% of the vote respectively, i.e. 92 and 64 seats in the Duma). United Russia came second and even third in several towns. And so it won 21% of the vote in Dubna (48% in the previous general election on 2nd December 2007) and 22% in Korolev, the town in which the Space Agency has its flight control centre (59% four years ago).

According to a poll undertaken by the Levada Centre, and published at the end of December 2011, three quarters of the Russians (73%) say they are dissatisfied with the government's policy "There is an enormous problem of legitimacy. This movement is carried along by people who are not politicised," stresses Carine Clément, director of the Collective Action Institute in Moscow, adding "it is a question of making this movement last and politicising it, of transforming offended dignity into sustainable commitment, everywhere in Russia." "The ruling power is now in an historical dead-end, it insists on provoking and discrediting the organisers of the demonstrations but above all it is preparing its vengeance," says Andrey Illaryonov, chairman of the Economic Analysis Institute. With his back to the wall, Vladimir Putin has one alternative: step up the authoritarian tendencies of his regime or accept the pluralisation of the political arena. For the time being he has not ruled out reserving some government posts for the opposition after his victory on 4th March next. "I have already said that I had invited the leaders of the parties deemed as being the opposition to participate, for example Fair Cause (PD) and Yabloko. These people have worked and continue to work effectively and I do not see anything impossible in that," he maintained.

Vladimir Putin counter attacks

"The general elections are over. Discussion over revising the results is out of the question," this was the response Putin gave to demonstrators. "In my opinion the election results undeniably reflect public opinion," he added. As usual he accused the demonstrators of "having a Russian passport" but of working for "a foreign power and enjoying funding from abroad." He stressed that "the opposition is leading Russia into chaos."

Vladimir Putin attempted to analyse the situation. "We have been through a period of serious crisis. It is clear that this has affected people negatively, that living standards have dropped, that many people have lost their job. This is why it is much easier for the opposition to recruit," he explained. However he regretted that dialogue with his opponents had been made "impossible because of the movement's disorganisation, which has neither leader nor programme." On 15th December he spoke on television for four and a half hours, during which time he answered viewers' questions. He invited political leaders to communicate better saying that the Russians needed national psychotherapy. He promised a transparent, objective election on 4th March. "As a candidate I don't need to cheat." He said he was ready to look into relaxing the laws on the registration of political parties and called for the re-introduction of the election of the regional leaders by direct universal suffrage (under certain conditions) – who are appointed by the regime in office – a possibility he abolished himself during his first term in office (2000-2004) using as his excuse the terrorist attacks in Beslan (1st-3rd September 2004) when Chechen terrorists took hundreds of children hostage in a school in North Ossetia and which led to around 350 deaths. In his opinion these attacks revealed the disloyalty of the regional authorities.

With regard to the economy Vladimir Putin published an article at the end of January in the economic daily Vedomosti in which he criticises "systemic corruption", maintaining that the business climate is "unsatisfactory" and qualified the dependency of the Russian economy on raw materials as "inadmissible". "In comparison with our competitors our country is much more attractive for investors. We have recorded significant leaks in capital. The main problem is the lack of transparency, the lack of control by society over the civil servants, customs and fiscal services, the legal system and the police force. There is systemic corruption if we call things by their proper name," he declared. The Court of Auditors noted 10,300 corruption offences in its 2011 annual report and believed that fraud totalled 718.5 billion roubles (€17.8 billion), a record sum since the 20th century. Vladimir Putin said that doing away with kickback payments on State orders would lead to savings of "between 5% to 10% of the federal budget, i.e. between 1% and 2% of the GDP per year." At the end of December he asked Russian State companies' heads to divulge to the State the shareholder structure of each of their business partners. He suggested providing more funds to scientific research and investments in high tech industries, pharmacy, the chemical industry, aviation and communication. "By investing in the competitiveness of leading sectors, Russia will also resolve an overall social problem, i.e. the development of a creative class and the possibility for it to fulfil itself," he indicated. Finally on 12th January Vladimir Putin launched his internet site ( Immediately internet users entered negative comments, some asking him to resign from office or not to stand in the presidential election. These were rapidly removed and replaced by new, more politically correct messages.

The other candidates

5 people are standing in the presidential election. Apart from Vladimir Putin there is:

– Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the country's main opposition party, the Communist Party (KPRF);

– Vladimir Zhirinovsky, founder and leader of the ultra-nationalist, populist party – the Liberal Democratic Party – LDPR);

– Sergey Mironov, Russia of Justice –Just Russia;

– Mikhail Prokhorov, leader of Right Cause (Pravoe Delo, PD), a billionaire and businessman (believed by some to be the richest man in Russia; his fortune is estimated at €9.3 billion) and leader of the investment company Onexim.

In his programme entitled "A real future" Mikhail Prokhorov proposes the creation of a common economic area between Russia and the EU and the introduction of a new world currency based on the euro and the rouble. He maintains that if he is elected his first action will be to free Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former CEO of the Russian oil company, in prison since 2004 for theft, fraud and tax evasion (accusations that he has always rejected), to whom he will offer the post of Prime Minister (if the latter refuses, the position will be offered to former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who resigned from office on 26th September last). Mikhail Prokhorov spoke in favour of the privatisation of State companies, a way for him to solve the State's deficit issues. "We now need a generation that is ready to launch real reform, which considers democracy and liberalism as common values. The genie has escaped from the bottle and will no longer return inside. The era of governed democracy is over," he maintained in an article published by the British daily The Guardian on 11th January. The leader of Right Cause said that he would limit the presidential function to one mandate and committed to reducing the minimum voting threshold to 3% for a party to be able to have a seat in the Duma and to re-introduce "the vote against everyone" that was abolished by Vladimir Putin.

"The Kremlin is promoting Mikhail Prokhorov's candidature to calm the demonstrations and so that the whole world will be excited to see a nice chap standing in the presidential election," declared Stanislav Belkovski, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow. "Mikhail Prokhorov is trying to follow Vladimir Putin's example and is positioning himself as a catch-all candidate," indicates Olga Mifodyeya from the Political Technology Centre.

Sergey Mironov says he supports social change "so that people understand where we are going." He said that he would resign after two years if he were to be elected and would probably organise another presidential election. "I am quite aware that the election will mainly comprise a protest vote, since people want anyone but Vladimir Putin," he indicated.

Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the liberal Yabloko party was not allowed to stand The electoral commission deemed that at least 24% of the signatures that he had collated could not be accepted. By eliminating him Vladimir Putin killed two birds with one stone since he thereby prevented observers' access to the polling stations – who previously pointed to the infringements committed in the general elections. Moreover some political analysts believe that if Grigory Yavlinsky had run it would have been an obstacle to Vladimir Putin's victory in the first round. On 1st February the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, called on Russia's Central Electoral Commission to review its refusal to register Grigory Yavlinsky.

The Presidential Post in Russia

Now elected for six years, the President of the Federation of Russia enjoys great powers. Head of the executive, he appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister, he can dissolve the Duma, submit draft laws to Parliament and he can suggest referenda. He also decides on the appointments in the army and the security services, appoints the judges in the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Court of Auditors and the Arbitration Court. He cannot be elected for more than two consecutive mandates.

Anyone standing for the supreme office has to be aged at least 35 and to have been living in Russia for a minimum of ten years. Any candidate whose party is not represented in the Duma must absolutely rally at least 500 declarations of support and 2 million signatures from the electorate, and these have to be collated in at least half of the country.

In spite of the protests that have taken place since the general election Vladimir Putin is still the favourite in the presidential election on 4th March next – which will herald his return to the Kremlin, which he had to leave in 2008 after two consecutive mandates (2000-2008). According to the most recent poll by POM and published in the daily Kommersant on 26th January last, the Prime Minister is due to win 44% of the vote, Guennadi Zyuganov 11%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 9%, Sergey Mironov and Mikhail Prokhorov 4% each.

There is suspense over whether Vladimir Putin will succeed in winning in the first round. Although defeat seems impossible, a second round would reveal the incapacity of United Russia's leader to rally half of the electorate to his name. And this would be a failure in the eyes of many. On February 1st the Prime Minister admitted that he might not win enough votes to take the first round on 4th March next. "It is not bad if there is a second round," declared Vladimir Putin who did however warn his fellow countrymen against "destabilising the political situation".

Source: the Central Electoral Commission of Russia

Presidential Election Russia, an unsurprising election

PDF | 269 koIn English

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