Russian Presidential election
Russia’s presidential election – over before it starts ?
Right from the moment that President Vladimir Putin named his close ally Dmitry Medvedev as his preferred successor, Kremlin-watchers have assumed he will win a handsome electoral victory next March and take office.
But the latest talk in Moscow suggests it may prove hard for the Kremlin even to pretend that a real contest has taken place.
Leading opposition candidate Gennady Zyuganov — a veteran Communist — is considering dropping out in protest against slanted media coverage, according to reports here. Zyuganov, who is currently touring China, has not commented but his reluctance to stand may have something to do with polls showing his support running at under 10 percent — well below the 15-20 percent levels recorded by his party.
And Mikhail Kasyanov — the main flag-carrier for the liberal opposition here — risks being disqualified. Officials say it appears that some of the 2 million signatures he was required to collect from all over Russia in support of his independent presidential bid were forged. The electoral commission will decide on Kasyanov’s candidacy by the end of the month.
Wags have suggested that if the Kremlin has any sense, it will let the former premier stand: his current support in opinion polls is around one percent.
Zhirinovsky’s LDPR party polled a mighty 8 percent in last month’s parliamentary elections, so its leader can hardly be called a threat to Medvedev.
And let’s not forget the other remaining opposition candidate — Andrei Bogdanov. Few Russians had heard of Bogdanov before he registered his candidacy and not many more have heard of him since. His Democratic Party picked up just 90,000 votes nationwide in the parliamentary elections, so it remains something of a mystery how he managed within the stipulated one month to find 2 million signatures from across this vast country in support of his independent presidential bid. His support in opinion polls has been measured in fractions of a percentage point.
The way in which Bogdanov became head of his party could provide some clues as to how much of a challenge he is to Medvedev. In December 2005, Kasyanov was on course to become the leader of Democratic Party. He and his supporters made their way to the conference venue in Moscow where he was due to be elected leader. But when they got there, their path was blocked by a crowd of protesters. The party congress went ahead without Kasyanov and dozens of delegates, and elected Bogdanov as leader instead. Some observers speculated that Bogdanov may have acted in concert with Kremlin insiders to frustrate Kasyanov’s political ambitions.
The Kremlin is keen to ensure Medvedev wins an election which at least looks like a contest, so some commentators here believe Zyuganov will not be allowed to drop his candidacy — it would just be too embarrassing.