by Igor Bakharev
It would seem almost criminal to term Russia’s transfer of power on March 2 an “ election.” However, criminality is in the eye of the beholder, doubly so when as president, you control all the trappings of the election process. But an “election” is what Russia will feign to have in two weeks, with the expected winner, current Gazprom chairman and deputy PM Dimitry Medvedev expected to be voted president. Upon his victory, he will name the outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, as his new prime minister.
A far cry from the free and pluralistic character of elections of the 1990’s, March 2’s victory will be the result of a gradual, year long consolidation of power by Vladimir Putin. And although, he has no nominal party affiliation, and ideally no ability to consolidate, he is effectively the head of United Russia, the Duma’s (Russian parliament) majority party since 2004. So, with a perpetual majority in parliament wrapped up, Putin proceeded to shake up his cabinet by declaring Victor Zubkov, a mild-mannered bureaucrat with no chance of challenging Putin’s plans of power retention, Prime Minister.
The projected favorite for the PM spot was Sergei Ivanov, a deputy prime minister and former KGB operative, who was long touted as a successor to Putin, but was apparently too much of a risk to Putin’s post-presidential plans. To ensure guaranteed transition and power beyond his two four year terms, Putin announced (effectively mandated) that Deputy PM Medvedev would be a fine choice for president, ensuring that his partner would be a malleable bureaucrat and not a potentially volatile ex-member of the KGB.
To ensure his continuing role of power, Putin hasn’t pulled any punches in ensuring Medvedev’s and by extension, his victory in the upcoming elections. The two only two credible opposition candidates, former PM Mikhail Kasyanov and chess legend Gary Kasparov, have been ruled ineligible on the basis of lack of popular support. A joke considering that one of the four candidates, heads an unknown “ Democratic Party” that received just 90,000 votes in December’s parliamentary election. Kasyanov was though to have a shot at candidacy when he delivered an astounding 2 million signatures in early January, only to have 13% of the signatures ruled ineligible by election authorities.
The other two candidates allowed to run, apart from the unknown and Medvedev, are: frequent nationalist blowhard Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democrats, a party name fraught with irony, and Communist leader, Gennady Zuganov. Both candidates have run repeatedly since 1996 and are guaranteed only to make ineffectual dents to Medvedev’s total vote count.
Such moves are paranoid and probably unnecessary, given that despite its autocratic tendencies, United Russia , enjoys genuine popularity among the Russian people. This is due in part to the state controlled television channels that refuse to offer airtime to other credible candidates and in part to the rising price of oil that translates into a higher standard of living. However, given the tactics of the Putin administration, the preference of the people will be decided for them, regardless of the favorable polling numbers. The December parliamentary elections saw voters bussed so as to vote multiple times and multiple instances of ballot stuffing. The upcoming presidential elections will turn out to be very much the same.