Russian Presidential election
MEDVEDEV’S UNUSUAL CAMPAIGN
PENZA, Russia – To an outsider, there are many strange things about the way Kremlin-backed contender Dmitry Medvedev runs his presidential campaign.
To start with, there is no campaign — at least in the sense it is understood in most of the world. No debates with opponents, no appeals to voters, no posters, no “Vote Medvedev” badges.
Instead, during the past couple of weeks, Medvedev has made several regional trips and accompanied President Vladimir Putin last Wednesday on a visit to the city of Penza some 700 km (400 miles) east of Moscow. He made a speech at a meeting with Russia’s intellectual elite last Tuesday laying out some of his big ideas.
These may look to some like campaign stops but officials say none of them is considered part of his campaign. In fact Russia’s presidential election campaign only officially starts on Feb.2.
“Dmitry Anatolyevich is not making campaign trips, ” his spokeswoman Zhanna Odintsova said after the Penza visit, as the Medvedev team prepared to head to the central Russian city of Voronezh. “He has not taken campaign leave (from his post) and all his tours are business trips.”
The double act staged by Putin and Medvedev in Penza certainly did not look like a campaign trip.
Like Putin, Medvedev flew on a government plane and dozens of Kremlin officials helped to organise the logistics. Local officials lined up to enjoy the privilege of meeting the candidate and police blocked city streets to allow the smooth passage of his convoy.
The issue of whether or not this was a campaign trip was not one which bothered Russian television. State-controlled channels lavishly covered the Penza visit, giving Medvedev the image of a man too busy to get involved in trivia such as a campaign, yet mature enough to match the popular Putin.
In Penza, the two men inaugurated a new heart hospital built as part of the government’s priority national projects, which are designed to translate swelling state revenues into better education, medical care, housing and agriculture. The projects are headed by Medvedev and are viewed as his strongest political asset.
Politically, a “no campaign” style is viewed by his minders as best for Medvedev. He is positioning himself as a natural successor to Putin and has his mentor’s strong backing. According to opinion polls last year, more than half of voters were ready to back whoever Putin anointed and Medvedev’s popularity ratings are already above 60 percent. One poll this week said 82 percent of voters who have already made up their minds would choose him.
Russia’s election laws strictly limit the size and sources of election funds and forbid the use advantages given by office during the campaign. The law strongly advises candidates to take campaign leaves from their posts to avoid clashes of interest.
The election laws also toughly regulate media access and advertising rules for candidates to even out their chances. Critics have complained that Medvedev’s appearances so far contravene these regulations.
Another opposition complaint concerns media coverage. Every detail of Medvedev’s visits to the provinces is uncritically covered by state-run television channels as a top story, while his opponents struggle to get any airtime at all.
Election officials so far say they see no problem. Attempts by political rivals to challenge in court similar state support to the Kremlin-backed party United Russia in last month’s parliamentary elections have failed.
“It would be a violation if, say, candidate Medvedev used the government airplane to make a campaign trip,” one senior election official has said. “But there is nothing wrong about First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev touring Russia and meeting people.”