Russia’s Presidential Election – the Candidates

The Putin era will end on Sunday, when Russia elects its next President.

Four men are vying for the top job – Putin’s Poodle, the Neo-Communist, Mad Vlad, and the liberal Masonic Grandmaster who likes to blog.

Dmitry Medvedev – United Russia
Official website: medvedev2008.ru

Dmitry Medvedev United RussiaThe unanswered question on everyone’s lips is – will President Medvedev be his own man, or just Putin’s Poodle?

So far, we’ve seen precious little independent spirit in Dmitry Medvedev. In fact, Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate is the consumate civil servant – for the past decade, been quietly working in the background, supporting his political master’s career. He managed Putin’s 2000 election campaign and, in 2003 became the Kremlin’s Chief of Staff.

In a word – dull.

Only since 2005, when he was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister, has Medvedev had any kind of real public profile. He used it to good effect – seeing off the marginally more charismatic Sergei Ivanov in the race to become Putin’s unofficially nominated successor.

Of all the four Presidential candidates, Dmitry Medvedev probably has the most clearly defined policies – they consist essentially of doing the same as Vladimir Putin. So closely aligned, in fact, are the two men’s policies, that Medvedev has already invited Putin to become his first Prime Minister.

Perhaps Dmitry Medvedev’s one saving grace is that he is a hard rocker. It’s hard to imagine that a fan of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, could be a entirely slavish devotee of authority…

Prediction: Although Medvedev is polling at 75-80%, I’m going to stick my neck out and say he’ll finish up with around 60-65% of the popular vote. Scoring less than 50% would be an utter disaster for Medvedev but, barring an unexpected catastrophe, there’s no chance of his being forced into a run-off.

Gennady Zyuganov – Communist Party of the Russian Federation
Official website: kprf.ru/personal/zyuganov/

Gennady Zyuganov Communist PartyHe might not look it from the picture, but Zyuganov is the battle scarred veteran of Russian politics.

In 1996, during some of Russia’s darkest days since the end of the Soviet Union, Zyuganov ran against Boris Yeltsin for the Presidency. Scoring 32% of the vote – just 3% less than Yeltsin – during the first round, he forced the election into a run-off. Zyuganov’s campaign focused on Yeltsin’s ill health, and the terrified incumbent President had to draw on all the advantages of state power to secure a narrow victory in the final round. In doing so, Yeltsin set the standard for all future ‘managed’ elections in Russia.

Zyuganov had another pop at the Presidency in 2000, scoring a reputable 29% of the vote and, although he had the good sense to avoid the 2004 race against an insanely popular Putin, he’s back for more this year.

Zyuganov’s chances of victory are all but nonexistent. The Communist Party’s core demographic is older voters, nostalgic for Soviet stability, and old Father Time is steadily killing off his support.

A number of disaffected younger Russians, who no longer remember the Communist era, are joining the Communist Party as an expression of their frustration, but probably not in large enough numbers to balance the losses among older supporters.

As you’d expect from a Communist – the core of his policy is based around renationalisation of private industry.

Polling at around 10%, Zyuganov will again be hoping for a second place finish. Anything above 25% would be a remarkable victory for him, and I’d imagine his campaign will try to establish him as the only reputable alternative for all disaffected Russians – especially now that Mikhail Kasyanov, the only recognisable Liberal candidate has been forced out of the race.

Prediction: Zyuganov will be thrilled that Kasyanov is out of the race. My money is on Zyuganov to exceed expectations, and pull in 20-25% of the popular vote, paving the way for one final tilt at the top job in 2012.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky – Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
Official website: ldpr.ru

Vladimir Zhirinovsky - Liberal Democratic PartyMad Vlad, they call him. Because he is.

Off all the candidates, Zhirinovsky is the most colourful. He’s an extreme nationalist, but at the same time a very pragmatic politician, who knows how to appeal to his base. An anti-semite with a Jewish father, he regularly calls for the reformation of the Soviet Union – he was a vocal supporter of the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev – and gets into fist fights in the Russian Parliament. Most would roll their eyes, but a small minority of voters love him.

As a result, Zhirinovsky has been a force in Russian politics for almost two decades, ever since he founded the very first official opposition party in the Soviet Union, way back in 1990.

The LDPR has now morphed into a nationalist party, but one with just about enough support to give it a few seats in the Russian Duma – probably helped by Zhirinovsky’s inspired decision to ask Andrei Lugovoi, the man wanted in Britain for poisoning Alexander Litvinenko, to head up the party list.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Zhirinovsky has run for President three times (along with Zyuganov, he chickened out of running against Putin in 2004), and never received more than 8% of the vote. His last run was in 2000, where he scored a disappointing 2.7% of the national vote.

Prediction: This year, in a small field, Zhirinovsky will be aiming to ride on the coat-tails of the Kremlin’s newly assertive foreign policy and break the 10% barrier for the first time. I’m not convinced of his broader appeal, though and think undecided anti-establishment voters would prefer to go with Zyuganov or Bogdanov instead, leaving Zhirinovsky with a disappointing but respectable 5-8%.

Andrei Bogdanov – Democratic Party of Russia
Official website: democrats.ru (link broken at time of writing)

Andrei Bogdanov - Democratic PartyAt 38, Andrei Bogdanov is the youngest, and most unexpected candidate in this election.

Bodganov heads up a liberal party that is both genuinely liberal, and genuinely unpopular in Russia. How the leader of a party that managed to secure 0.3% of the popular vote in a national election a few months ago managed to secure 2 million signatures to get onto the ballot for the Presidential Election is anyone’s guess.

That his 2 million signatures were approved by the Central Election Commission, while the 2 million signatures of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov were ruled invalid has led to criticisms that Bogdanov is only in the election so that the Kremlin can remove its only real liberal opponent and still point to the results and say: “Look, Russia is a democratic country – there is a Liberal party in our elections, and nobody voted for them!”

Campaigning on a platform of integration with the European Union and NATO, Bodganov has no chance of securing a sizeable vote.

But, looking on the bright side, as well as being genuinely liberal, Bogdanov has long hair, and he’s the Grand Master of the Russian Masonic Lodge.

Oh, and Bogdanov is one of Russia’s most prominent political bloggers. In between political commentary, he likes to post pictures of himself in his swimsuit.

Bogdanov will be aiming to pick up votes from other disenfranchised liberals, plus the odd protest vote. A result of around 5% would be good, anything above that could potentially position himself and his party as one of the most influential Liberal parties in Russia ahead of the next round of Duma elections in a few years.

Prediction: Despite his weaknesses, Bogdanov is the only liberal candidate, and I think enough liberals will swallow their pride to push Bogdanov just past the 5% mark.

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17 Responses

  1. GER O'BRIEN says:

    The Russians clearly are spoiled for choice. You’ve got a Kremlin stooge, a notorious racist Jew(though admittedly he’s very funny), a Communist and a Freemason exhibitionist. Conspiracy theorists would have a field day with this one.

    My impresssion from most Russians is that they find Zhirinovsky hilarious, have respect for his intellect but would never vote for him. Zyuganov gets the elderly vote. In fairness Medvedev does seem like a nice guy though I’d have preferred Sergei Ivanov – he’s really sharp and witty. I wonder how long Putin will remain Prime Minister….everything changes in patriarchal Russia when you arent the boss anymore.

  2. Among others, Andrei Kortunov suggested that Zhirinovsky is more showman than bigot.

    A NYT article from awhile ago noted how Zhirinovsky once served as a legal advocate for Soviet era Jewish dissidents. The article referenced some of the dissidents. He didn’t deny this, saying that it was his job.

    Shortly after 911, Zhirinovsky took a more sympathetic line towards the West. That has since changed. A change due to how the West (US in particular) didn’t embrace Russian attempts to forge closer ties.

    Zhirinovsky is like many an American politician who will always get a certain amount of attention, while never (at least not likely) making it to the very top.

    In terms of seeking a more peaceable image, Medevedev appears to be the better choice over Ivanov. Whether rightly or wrongly, the former is seen by many as more gentle and potentially less prone to confrontation.

  3. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Zhirinovsky IS a clown, no doubt about it, and I think in fairness to him its more about entertainment and populism than actually bigotry. But whether its for entertainment or not, such views are unacceptable in a modern western society, and that he does have some popularity says something not very good about Russia.
    I would agree though that the Russians bent over backwards to accomodate the US after 911 – air bases, fly-over rights, logistical aid in Afghanistan, not to mention loads of intelligence, including Putin’s warning before 911. The US did not reciprocate, stonewalling WTO membership and refusing to sign a new nuclear arms deal. It was a pity, and it was behaviour the Russian government couldnt understand, and I believe has laid the grounwork for more recent tensions.
    Medvedev, work wise, is undoubtedly a better choice than Ivanov, who, by the time he finished as Defence Minister, had no friends or anyone listening left in the army. In terms of fun though Ivanov is streets ahead.

  4. Re: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Medvedev

    Physically fit leaders can prove to be just as competent or incompetent as the not so healthy ones.

    For the purpose of promoting a nation’s health, the physically fit leader can make a difference. Not that this necessarily happens.

    Glad to see that Medvedev is a physically active sort.

    I understand that Ivanov was once that way. Along with Lavrov and countless others, he should stop smoking.

  5. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Agreed on the smoking, and it looks better if the leader is active anyway.
    But will anyone answer the question – can anyone speculate PUTINS position after Medvedev is elected?

  6. I thought he was slated for the PM slot. If so, there’s the view that he will still very much influence Russian affairs.

    I believe it has also been stated that the PM position could be hypothetically changed to give it more clout.

    The above thoughts could be incorrect, due to my being involved with some other matters.

    There’s the view that as Yeltsin’s time at the top was different from Gorbachev’s and Putin’s different from Yeltsin’s, the likely President Medvedev could very well develop his own political legacy.

    Putin is an understandably popular leader. If PM, there’s reason to believe that it will be in a very influential role. A not necessarily bad option. The influence of a seemingly secondary position in government varies. It depends on who is at the top and just below. In the US, Dick Cheney is said to have greater influence than many other past American vice presidents.

    A good deal has been written about factions within United Russia. Is this a sign of that party becoming more pluralistic in a way that can be termed more democratic? On how one party can be multi-dimensional, there’s a long standing view in some quarters that the American political system is essentially a one party system divided between Republicans and Democrats, who aren’t so fundamentally different from each other (pardon the not so smooth translation: http://en.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=248&search=Mike%20Averko ). The counter-reply is that the American system in place is agreeable enough for most Americans. Let’s keep in mind what most Russians seems to want in relation to themselves.

    A matter relating to this recent exchange involving someone on my list (pardon the repeat of some earlier expressed thoughts at this thread):

    Mike,

    I’ve wondered how I’ve landed on your distribution, but have read/observed many of your articles – to your credit, well received.

    However, after spending time in Moscow, as is the case in NYC, USA, I’ve questioned to myself — is there a difference? People, friends, cultures, minding their own business.

    As I look beyond the localities of urbanism, it makes me ponder Foreign Policy on the whole. From a Gov/SVR perspective, Russia is soo concerned about an anti-American relay to the people – Why?

    Instead, the respected Russian Federation ought to be focused on it’s own people. After all Putin can take his shirt off and interact with the Mountain people, why not enact policy that will help those same targeted demographics ūüėČ – no different than the U.S. (reminds me of Atuturk and the Mountain Turks; the Kurds).

    Agh, by the way, will a traditional Russian Fed Delegation accept a Black Man into the Kremlin for Brunch to discuss politics/issues at hand? or would a Woman be better?

    Issues at hand as we begin our candid and intelligent dialogue with hopeful feedback and personal intrigue. Status of Georgia – while it won for Obama, does it hold for NATO? Would Russian Fed support a new NATO member? Perhaps an item for your next article.

    Until that the next edit, do hope all is well with continued enjoyment of the corresp. you send me. Professionally and a bit concerned for the 21st Century, hoping Beijing ’08 won’t be our next Spu(oo)tnik moment!

    XXXX

    My reply:

    I agree that humans the world over have great similarities, rather than trumped up differences. The latter still exists. So as to limit the misunderstanding, it’s important to best understand those differences. This can be difficult, since it involves a soft science, open to interpretation.

    Post-Soviet Russia has repeatedly reached out to the West, only to be shortchanged. Shortly after the coup against Gorbachev, Yeltsin’s government openly inquired about Russia joining NATO. This was met with astonished bemusement. Shortly thereafter, anti-Russian propaganda was used as a basis to expand NATO without Russia. After 911, Russia reached out to the West, only to once again face unnecessarily Russia unfriendly stances. With all this in mind, it’s understandable why many in Russia oppose some of the core neocon and neolib policies.

    Russia does concern itself with its own people. How well is open to legitimate debate. Russia is also a major country, which should be involved in some of the key global matters. I don’t think that Russia will have a great hang up dealing with a Black or female American president. Russia deals with Black and female heads of states. At issue are the policies and not the color or sex of the leaders.

    The former Soviet republic of Georgia doesn’t need NATO membership as much as better socioeconomic and human rights conditions. I’ll keep in mind your suggestion.

    Thanks for writing.

  7. Andy says:

    But will anyone answer the question – can anyone speculate PUTINS position after Medvedev is elected?

    I’d love to, but I simply don’t have a clue.

    Most likely he’ll be Prime Minister, and most likely he’ll retain significant influence.

    But I don’t think anyone is entirely sure how the Russian political system will react to having two sources of power (President & PM).

    Nor (and this is the bigger question, I think) does anyone have a clue what Putin’s intentions are – does he plan to transfer power to the Prime Minister’s office, does he plan to gradually transfer power to Medvedev if he can, or is he planning something off the wall, like running for President again in four years?

    Also, no-one is quite sure how the economic situation will play out over the next few years. Putin’s job over the past 8 years has been made much easier by the booming Russian economy, but this is largely propped up by high oil prices. What if the economy shifts, and Russia goes into recession? Will Putin be strengthened by this? Will he be threatened and resort to more autocratic measures? Will he think… “Hmmm, this could be a convenient time to retire with my reputation intact, and leave Medvedev to sort out the mess”?

    So many variables, so few answers…

  8. Regarding the Russian economic situation, here’s what I think is a pretty informative discussion:

    http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=Experts%27+Panel&articleid=a1201870840

    Upon perusing that venue, the writing and views in this piece appear familiar (I’ll leave it at that):

    http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=CDI+Russia+Profile+List&articleid=a1202228384

  9. Edit:

    “I don¬ít think that Russia will have a great hang up dealing with a Black or female American president. Russia deals with Black and female heads of states.”

    To:

    I don’t think that Russia will have a great hang up dealing with an American Black or female president. Russia deals with other Black and female heads of states.

  10. GER O'BRIEN says:

    I just wonder whether or not Medvedev will attempt to shaft Putin the way Putin shafted the oligarchs after they helped him to power. Who wouldve bet that that would happen before it did? I suppose in the short term its unlikely, but would you feel a bit annoyed if you got promoted and a subordinate had all the power and plaudits? I suspect, as usual with the Kremlin, there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye.

    ”believe it has also been stated that the PM position could be hypothetically changed to give it more clout.”

    I’m almost certain that that is part of the witches brew at 1 Red Square. After all, its just 5 minutes walk to the Duma from the Presidium.

  11. Andy says:

    Must be a bit depressing for Putin, though, to move from a swish office in the majesterial surroundings of the Kremlin to a boxy office in the White House…

  12. GER O'BRIEN says:

    A bit of a step down alright. Its a pity when you visit the Kremlin that you cant visit or see the building – it is funny to know though that Putin is less then 300m away) You cant visit Bely Dom at all, but its an impressive sight – I often have to go to Krylatskoe, on the ”cold line” as Muscovites call it, and the view of the White House as the metro train crosses the bridge between Smolenskaya and Kievskaya is breathtaking, especially at night.

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