Central Electoral Commission counting candidates


Five or four? Political fortune-tellers will be fretting over that question until January 27, when the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) is due to approve or deny registration for would-be presidential candidates Dmitri Medvedev, Mikhail Kasyanov, and Andrei Bogdanov. Two other candidates were registered by the CEC in December: Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennadi Zyuganov and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

No one has any doubts about Dmitri Medvedev’s registration. As RIA Novosti reports, opinion polls in November and early December showed Medvedev slightly behind the second-rank leaders (Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky), but he overtook them by late December. In early January, the results of the first poll done after Vladimir Putin endorsed Medvedev showed that Medvedev’s support rating had quintupled. Medvedev is now the undisputed favorite, supported by 46% of respondents, compared to 7% for Zhirinovsky and 6% for Zyuganov. That’s only 5% short of the vote percentage he needs to win the election in the first round.

The Kommersant newspaper reports some results from the Levada Center polling agency, aimed at identifying Medvedev’s most attractive qualities.

This poll, done in late December, indicates that Medvedev is perceived as having two outstanding qualities: he is close to Putin, and Putin trusts him. These were noted by 42% of respondents.

According to Levada Center Director Lev Gudkov, what this really means is that “citizens don’t perceive Dmitri Medvedev as a self-sufficient politician” – the successor “hasn’t emerged from the president’s shadow.” Gudkov says that 81% of respondents see Medvedev as a “kind and caring manager” who will continue Putin’s policy course in the interests of “ordinary people.”

If these opinions remain unchanged over the next six weeks, says Gudkov, “Medvedev is guaranteed to win the election in the first round.” Opinions could be reversed by criticism from opposition candidates if “it was expressed on national television rather than only via the Internet.”

But the television networks don’t seem inclined to give all candidates equal time. A survey by the Medialogy monitoring agency, commissioned by the Vedomosti newspaper, shows that in the month following the announcement that four parties are supporting Medvedev, he was mentioned in the media four times more frequently than Zhirinovsky or Zyuganov.

The national networks mentioned Medvedev in 840 stories, Zhirinovsky in 198, and Zyuganov in 167; the independents, Andrei Bogdanov and Mikhail Kasyanov, were mentioned in around 50 stories each.

Even the stars favor Medvedev. RIA Novyi Region reports that prominent astrologer Pavel Globa held a press conference, saying: “Medvedev will govern for two presidential terms – eight years. But he won’t be weak or controlled by others. Medvedev was born in the Year of the Snake, and snakes can shed their skins and change colors. Medvedev has a chance of becoming tougher and more pragmatic, less controllable. I am sure of that.”

Lacking carte blanche from the stars, Bogdanov and Kasyanov have had to collect two million signatures each in order to meet registration requirements, since they have not been nominated by parties represented in the Duma.

As the BBC reports, Kasyanov submitted 2.067 million signatures to the CEC (Vremya Novostei notes that the signatures were delivered in four Gazel vans – 138 boxes of paper, weighing a total of two tons). Bogdanov submitted 2.1 million signatures. CEC member Yevgeny Kolyushin told the media that Bogdanov spent 811,000 rubles on collecting signatures in 54 regions; Kasyanov spent 4.7 million rubles, covering 77 regions.

Two teams of handwriting analysts will now verify each candidate’s signature lists.

Kolyushin told Rossiiskaya Gazeta: “This task will be a nightmare. They’ll be working in two shifts, hurrying to get it done – the CEC has only ten days to complete verification.”

RIA Novosti shares some observations about Andrei Bogdanov, leader of the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR). The total number of citizens eligible to vote is 109,145,517; so a would-be candidate needs to collect signatures from just under 2% of those people. But the DPR got only 0.13% of the vote (89,780 votes) in the Duma elections on December 2.

The law requires political parties to have at least 50,000 members. Comparing this to the Duma election results, RIA Novosti concludes that the DPR got the votes of 39,780 people in addition to its own members: “It appears that these ‘democrats’ couldn’t persuade all of their relatives, neighbors, friends, classmates and so on to vote for their party. In other words, the DPR leader led his party to an overwhelming defeat. So why is the party nominating him as its presidential candidate?”

Some answers to this question are suggested by the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and experts approached by RIA Vybory and Vremya Novostei.

Novaya Gazeta says: “Since the current Kremlin team is accustomed to using triple safeguards, it’s clear that ‘independent’ Andrei Bogdanov has been chosen to serve as an extra sparring-partner.”

In an interview with RIA Vybory, political analyst Alexei Makarkin describes Bogdanov as an “insurance candidate” who is guaranteed not to withdraw from the election. The law requires there to be at least two candidates in an election; and even if all the other candidates (except Medvedev) withdraw, Bogdanov would remain to ensure that the election is valid. Makarkin says: “Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who supported the incumbent, served as this kind of candidate in the presidential election of 2004. And Bogdanov is such a candidate now.”

Vremya Novostei reports the opinion of Boris Makarenko, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center: “He’ll be a purely technical figure – a safeguard against any potential blackmail attempts by Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, who might threaten to invalidate the election by withdrawing.”

The RBC Daily newspaper maintains that Mikhail Kasyanov has the weakest chances of being granted registration. Alexei Makarkin points out that on the one hand, the West would like to see Kasyanov in the race; from the West’s perspective, the absence of Kasyanov would mean the absence of any pro-democracy alternative to the established candidates (the West doesn’t take Bogdanov seriously). On the other hand, allowing Kasyanov to become a candidate would mean giving him publicity: opportunities to appear on television, to campaign and mobilize support for his ideas.

According to Makarkin, permitting Kasyanov any significant opportunities as a presidential candidate would be more problematic than the West’s disapproval.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta argues that efforts are underway to prepare the public for an annnouncement that signatures collected by Kasyanov are fakes. For example, Rustam Abdullin, Kasyanov’s campaign manager in Marii El, is being prosecuted on charges of falsifying election-related documents.

As Kommersant reports, Abdullin was arrested on Saturday, January 12 at the Yoshkar-Ola railway station as he set out to deliver 50,000 signatures to Moscow.

In an interview with Novye Izvestia, Abdullin denied the charges: “I believe this case is political. We’re preparing complaints against the unlawful actions of personnel from the Prosecutor’s Office and the FSB.”

In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, political analyst Georgy Chizhov notes that “the problem of fake signatures isn’t new.” Chizhov, who has extensive election campaign experience in the regions, emphasizes that there are two ways of collecting signatures: either by having a powerful party structure (such as United Russia or the CPRF), or by using commercial methods.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, political analysts doubt that Kasyanov’s movement, the People’s Democratic Union, has a “powerful party structure.” For one thing, the movement still hasn’t been registered as a party. Consequently, Nezavisimaya Gazeta concludes that would-be candidate Kasyanov could only have used commercial methods to collect his two million signatures.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta says that signature-collection costs average 30-50 rubles per signature. Political consultants calculate that collecting two million signatures would cost at least 120-140 million rubles, including overheads. But this method, and the considerable costs involved, also practically guarantees that by no means all of the signatures will be “of good quality.”

Chizhov goes on to say: “Campaign managers working in the field are greatly tempted to ‘economize’ on signature-collection costs. Rather than hiring people to collect signatures by door-knocking, they might buy a database of a particular city’s residents, along with addresses and passport details, and copy this data into signature lists, then fake the signatures.”

Elena Dikun, Kasyanov’s advisor, says that Kasyanov’s campaign team has spent only 5 million rubles on collecting signatures – that is, only two rubles per signature, not counting overheads. Political analysts describe this figure as highly unrealistic.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta heard a similar opinion from Sergei Reshulsky, CPRF faction coordinator in the Duma: “Two million – that’s about one voter in fifty. In other words, Kasyanov’s signature-collectors ought to be working all over the country, but I myself haven’t seen any of them, and none of my colleagues have mentioned seeing any either.” Reshulsky didn’t say whether he’d seen anyone collecting signatures for Bogdanov.

Stanislav Radkevich, director of the PR-3000 agency, told Vedomosti that Kasyanov’s campaign team has enough money to collect signatures without resorting to forgery. However, he also noted that some of its campaign workers might be agents provocateurs: sent in to sabotage the campaign by faking signatures and being caught, deliberately.

Dmitri Badovsky, deputy director of the Social Systems Institute, maintains that Kasyanov’s presence in the presidential election doesn’t fit in with the successor’s campaign strategy. “A campaign with Kasyanov and a campaign without Kasyanov are two entirely different things, from the standpoint of the established structure,” Badovsky told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Medvedev is now able to position himself optimally before a maximally broad electorate. He is presenting himself as the most right-wing liberal candidate, while simultaneously presenting his policy program as socially-oriented.”

According to Badovsky, if Kasyanov is in the race, an image of the enemy would be available immediately: “The political objective in this election is to ensure that citizens not only vote for Medvedev, but also support the planned reform program. Medvedev is supposed to look like a consolidating figure, so introducing an image of the enemy as an element in his campaign wouldn’t be entirely appropriate, from the technical and political standpoint.”

Boris Makarenko disagrees. He told Vremya Novostei: “The Union of Right Forces party was portrayed as the enemy in the Duma elections. But it would be more difficult to attach the image of the enemy to Kasyanov – after all, he was the prime minister throughout Putin’s first term. Such a move would be a double-edged sword for the authorities.”

Some experts suggest that the Kremlin’s unique sense of humor might help Kasyanov secure registration as a presidential candidate.

Alexei Mukhin, general director of the Political Information Center, told Novye Izvestia: “I’m getting the impression that the Kremlin has decided to grant Kasyanov registration, and then assign him two percent of the vote, as a joke.” This refers to Kasyanov’s nickname – “Two-Percent Misha” – acquired when Kasyanov was responsible for Russia’s state and commercial debts, and allegedly collected 2% kickbacks from interested parties.

Andrei Kolesnikov, political observer for RIA Novosti, agrees: it would be “easy” for “gleefully malicious” political strategists “to record Kasyanov as getting precisely two percent of the vote, no matter whether his actual total is zero or five percent. Some would enjoy that.”

RBC Daily notes that this presidential election will have fewer candidates than any other. There were 11 candidates in the election of 2000, and six in 2004.

How many will there be in 2008? Five? Four? Or perhaps three?