THE MAGIC IN A NAME

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Candidate Putin isn’t doing enough for United Russia

In early October, straight after President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to head United Russia’s candidate list, the party’s support rating rose by ten percentage points. Since then, however, things haven’t gone according to plan.


There’s bad news for the Kremlin. Although the fashionable word “Putin” is still capable of exciting voters, its productivity is suspiciously low. In early October, straight after President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to head United Russia’s candidate list, the party’s support rating rose by ten percentage points. Since then, however, things haven’t gone according to plan.

The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), a pro-Kremlin polling agency, reports that support for United Russia dropped from 56% to 50% between October 13 and November 4. This decline exceeds VTsIOM’s statistical error margin of 3.4%. Figures from the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) are kinder, but even they show that a miracle has failed to occur: United Russia’s rating jumped from 35% to 44% after Putin’s announcement, but has refused to rise any further in the past month. True, United Russia’s results improve if calculated as a percentage of respondents who firmly intend to vote, rather than all respondents: 56% according to the FOM and 63-64% according to VTsIOM. Andrei Vorobiev, chairman of United Russia’s executive committee, says that 55-60% of the vote would be regarded as a successful result – practically guaranteeing a constitutional majority in the Duma.

But waning voter interest is still dangerous – not so much for United Russia itself as for its unofficial leader. “What takes place on December 2 will be a referendum on confidence in the President,” says Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov (United Russia). Victory by a margin worthy of Turkmenistan would assist Putin’s aspirations to retain leadership even after he leaves office. So far, however, United Russia has been more burden than help for Putin. Its Duma campaign has a simple structure: declining to participate in televised debates, and plenty of posters showing regional leaders shaking hands with Putin. Such arrogance might be punished, even in a sovereign democracy.

Someone needs to come up with something, urgently. United Russia functionary Abdul-Khakim Sultygov has proposed convening a Civic Council and electing Putin as national leader; quite seriously, Sultygov draws parallels with the Zemskii Council (sobor) of 1613 that crowned Mikhail Romanov, establishing a new royal dynasty. Sultygov’s article was posted on United Russia’s official website, remained there for a couple of days, then mysteriously disappeared.

A difficult task has been set: mobilizing those Putin-supporters who aren’t prepared to join the monolithic ranks of United Russia. Voting for the “czar” is very different from voting for “the czar and his nobles” as an inseparable bloc. The best solution would have been to get rid of United Russia’s 600 candidates and leave Putin as the sole candidate on the list, then let him hand out Duma seats to his representatives after winning the election. Alas, they didn’t think of this solution in advance – and it’s too late to amend electoral legislation now.

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