A big secret for a small company

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The publication of a resolution in Rossiiskaya Gazeta on November 28 marked the official start of the presidential election period. The registration of presidential candidates will be completed by January 16, and the campaigning period will be under way from February 2 to February 29.

Lenta.ru reports: “A very diverse company of presidential hopefuls has assembled at the starting-line, but the figure of the chief participant still remains obscured.”

As at November 28, nine people were known to have declared intentions to run for president. Lenta.ru suggests dividing them into the following categories: “oldies” (Gennadi Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Grigori Yavlinsky), “oppositionists” (Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Bukovsky), and “loners” (Nikolai Kurianovich, Alexander Donskoy). However, Lenta.ru also points out that none of them will end up becoming president.

This presidential election certainly isn’t the first for Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky, and Yavlinsky. As Lenta.ru notes, Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennadi Zyuganov will be making his third attempt at the presidency in 2008. His first attempt was in 1996 – and he was half a step from victory, but missed his chance: Zyuganov got 40.41% of the vote in the second round, losing to Boris Yeltsin by 13%. Allies accused Zyuganov of slacking off after the second round of voting, failing to build on his success, fearing the possibility of victory and the consequent responsibility – preferring to keep his place in opposition, but with access to the Kremlin.

Zyuganov skipped the presidential election of 2004, in which the CPRF fielded an obviously weak candidate, Nikolai Kharitonov; once again, this gave critics a pretext to accuse Zyuganov of doing a deal with the Kremlin.

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is an even more experienced presidential candidate: this will be his fourth election. His first attempt was the strongest: over 6 million voters supported Zhirinovsky in June 1991, and his 7.81% of the vote put him in third place after Yeltsin and Nikolai Ryzhkov. Since then, his performance has declined.

Like Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigori Yavlinsky will be making his third attempt at the presidency. His previous best result was 7.4% of the vote in 1996.

From the opposition camp, Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), will become a presidential candidate for the second time. Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that his first nomination was in spring of 1996, but Nemtsov ended up withdrawing from that election.

Nemtsov has promised that if he wins, he’ll bring back direct elections for regional leaders, give more money to the regions, and raise pensions. His allies claim that no better presidential candidate can be found. SPS campaign manager Anton Bakov told the Kommersant newspaper: “If we suddenly held a contest for opposition candidates, Boris Nemtsov would prove the most worthy.” Artur Myaki, SPS political council member, described Nemtsov as a bold fighter – relating a campaign trail incident in Karelia, when Nemtsov narrowly escaped being struck by a falling chandelier, but carried on talking to voters.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta doesn’t share the optimism of SPS activists. It maintains that Nemtsov’s campaign has opened with a false start. The first “major event” in which he participated was the Dissenter March in Moscow on November 24, and it was not a success. Firstly, the march drew only a thousand people – and that’s counting journalists. Secondly, these potential voters gave Nemtsov a cool reception, not showing much enthusiasm for his speech at the rally. Neither did he gain any points by leaving early, abandoning his arrested his opposition comrades.

Experts say that Nemtsov has launched his presidential campaign early in an attempt to boost the SPS party’s results in the parliamentary election.

Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, told Kommersant that the SPS is in trouble: its support rating is low, and Vladimir Putin directed some harsh criticism at it last week. So the party is attempting to use the presidential candidate project in the Duma election rather than the presidential election.

Igor Bunin, director of the Political Techniques Center, told the Novye Izvestia newspaper that with the parliamentary campaign at its height, “this is useful publicity for Nemtsov’s party.”

Alexei Mukhin, director of the Political Information Center, told Novye Izvestia that the SPS campaign is on the brink of disaster: “knowing that they definitely won’t make it into the parliament,” SPS leaders have decided to “stake a claim to a place in the presidential campaign.” And Nemtsov’s announcement should be regarded as an attempt “to remain in federal politics until next March, at least.”

The SPS decision to nominate Boris Nemtsov as its presidential candidate will be made official at the party congress on December 7.

Novye Izvestia observes that Mikhail Kasyanov has distinguished himself by declaring and retracting his presidential ambitions several times already. He made another statement on November 23: the “format” for his participation in the presidential election “has not been determined yet.” However, a People’s Democratic Union (NDS) presidium meeting on November 28 recommended that the NDS leader should run for president. He will be nominated officially when an initiative group meets on December 8.

Gazeta.ru maintains that as Kasyanov launches the process of running as an independent, he’s still hoping to become the sole opposition candidate representing the pro-democracy forces.

Gazeta.ru reports that the NDS presidium approve a draft coalition agreement which Kasyanov will ask pro-democracy forces to sign. Kasyanov mentioned the SPS, Yabloko, the deregistered Republican Party of Russia (led by Vladimir Ryzhkov), and the Other Russia coalition. The agreement entails supporting a common candidate and holding consultations on campaign slogans and policy programs. The common candidate wouldn’t be able to withdraw from the race without the coalition’s approval. And if the common candidate wins, he undertakes to consult the coalition regarding senior appointments and points made in the president’s annual address to parliament.

This was indirectly confirmed by Boris Nemtsov, who told Gazeta.ru: “Kasyanov and I agreed that it would be premature to speak of such things before December 2. I don’t think that any conditions or ultimatums should be set before negotiations begin. In principle, the text is perfectly suitable for discussion – but the question is who will be the common candidate. That’s the key issue.”

Not surprisingly, the NDS wants its leader to be the common candidate representing the opposition. NDS presidium member Ivan Starikov said that in contrast to Kasyanov, “all the other opposition candidates have a track record of defeat” and “cannot match his management experience.” Kommersant quotes Irina Khakamada as saying that “Mikhail Kasyanov is the most suitable candidate for the role of president.”

Kasyanov made his political position clear in a speech to NDS activists. Vremya Novostei quotes him as saying: “A so-called parliamentary election is under way. It’s a simulation. Once it’s over, we hope that the leaders of friendly organizations will sober up to some extent – so that we’ll be able to form a coalition for nominating a common candidate.”

When asked about Nemtsov’s decision to run for president, and his proposal to choose a common candidate based on opinion poll results, Kasyanov told Kommersant that he doesn’t support this idea. Kasyanov is on record as saying that he doesn’t trust opinion poll results, since they “don’t reflect the real picture.”

Kommersant notes that Kasyanov might end up being the only candidate from the pro-democracy forces. Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Political Expertise Institute, points out that it will cost about 200 million rubles to collect the 2 million signatures required for registration, and that’s more than most would-be candidates can afford. “But Kasyanov does have that kind of money,” says Minchenko.

Igor Bunin told Novye Izvestia that in the absence of Vladimir Putin, several opposition candidates could get “over 10% of the vote.” CPRF representative Nikolai Kharitonov was the only candidate who managed to do that in the presidential election of 2004.

According to Lenta.ru, another would-be candidate is Duma member Nikolai Kurianovich, known for his radical ultra-nationalist views. Kurianovich announced at a Duma meeting on November 13 that “with the blessing of the Holy Fathers,” he has agreed to “comply with numerous requests from allies and voters,” and run for president in order to “put an end to the policy of betraying the national interests of the Russian people and other indigenous peoples in Russia.”

At a press conference, Kurianovich announced the basic principles of his campaign policy program. If he wins, we would end up living in an entirely different Russia.

Kurianovich proposes abolishing the Federation Council on the grounds that it’s useless; Russian Orthodoxy would become the state religion; Tatarstan and Bashkortostan would become the Kazan province and the Ufa province. Kurianovich also promised to decriminalize “inciting ethnic hatred,” since “this is a propaganda weapon used against Russian patriots.”

Lenta.ru reports than another independent candidate might be the long-suffering former mayor of Arkhangelsk, Alexander Donskoy, who declared his presidential ambitions back in autumn of 2006. But his circumstances have changed considerably since then: he was hit with four simultaneous criminal investigations, and has spent the past four months in pre-trial detention – but he has yet to indicate that he’s abandoning his plans, and has even said that he wants to start his own party after he’s released. Under the circumstances, however, Donskoy’s election prospects and other prospects appear uncertain.

Media reports have noted that the next president is still missing from this assembly of would-be candidates: the Kremlin hasn’t named its candidate yet.

RBC Daily suggests that the name of President Putin’s designated successor might be made known by December 18 – if he runs as an independent, and if the Kremlin entrusts the For Putin (Za Putina) movement with the task of nominating its candidate. As Central Electoral Commission member Elena Dubrovina explained, nominations for independent candidates have to be submitted within 20 days of the start of the campaign period. If the successor is nominated by the United Russia party, the nomination deadline would be five days later.

Experts suggest that the For Putin movement may have been established for the express purpose of supporting the successor. Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, told RBC Daily: “To date, no Kremlin candidate has ever been nominated by a party. Then again, if United Russia manages a convincing victory in the Duma election, it might be entrusted with nominating the Kremlin’s presidential candidate.”

Lenta.ru agrees: “United Russia’s candidate is likely to be the ‘successor’ whose identity everyone has been guessing at for so long. The oldies, the oppositionists, the loners, and any other candidates are likely to be relegated to the roles of silent extras.”

Political analysts note that in contrast to previous occasions, this presidential election campaign will be less interesting than the associated Duma election.

Alexei Makarkin told Radio Liberty: “The parliamentary election campaign, of secondary importance in overall terms, is taking on the characteristics of a plebiscite – the president is heading one of the party lists, which has never happened before. Thus, there’s the impression that the presidential election will become a relatively secondary event. Operation Successor is likely to be completed after all, and the presidential election will be linked to that operation.”

Citing poll results from the Levada Center, Makarkin noted that about 40% of respondents say they’re prepared to vote for the designated successor, whoever that may be – they’re not particularly interested in his name.

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