The Kommersant newspaper quotes Communist Party (CPRF) Central Committee Secretary Oleg Kulikov’s description of the For Putin movement’s forum: “The wind is humming in the trees up above, but things are quiet on the ground.” The same can be said for the presidential campaign as a whole.
Opinion polls have clearly identified the favorite for several months already; the other candidates merely form a backdrop for the successor’s “clear and shining mind.” Nothing has been able to liven up this picture – not even the scuffle between Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Nikolai Gotsa, representative of Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) candidate Andrei Bogdanov.
The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) reports that it has increased the number of polling stations and intends to present direct evidence of high voter turnout in Ingushetia. Meanwhile, voters complain that candidates haven’t been campaigning very much at all.
The Novye Izvestia newspaper reports that the Russian Free Elections Foundation has been running a hotline since February 1, covering 48 locations in various regions. The analysts note that public awareness of the presidential election is lacking; many citizens in remote villages have no idea that an election is scheduled for March 2. Not surprisingly, a third of calls to the hotline have been about housing or social services problems, rather than the election. Election-related calls typically complain about the use of administrative resources. Hotline coordinator Alexander Kapustin told Novye Izvestia that Sunday, March 2 has been declared a working day in some locations – with employees forced to go to polling stations and then report on how they voted.
At least they won’t need to wait in line to do so. CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov has announced that there will be over 96,000 polling stations for the presidential election: 1% more than there were for the Duma elections in December 2007. Newsru.com quotes Churov as saying: “We have decided to open some additional voting premises, in order to avoid queues.”
Churov has also issued special instructions to electoral commissions in regions which recorded unusually high voter turnout for the Duma elections. As Kommersant reports, they will have to present extra evidence of the veracity of their turnout figures for the presidential election. Kommersant notes that record turnout figures were reported in Chechnya (99.5%), Ingushetia (98.3%), Mordovia (94.5%), and Kabardino-Balkaria (96.7%). After the Duma elections, the CPRF questioned the plausibility of almost-100% turnout; these figures were also questioned by international observers, including monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.
At a selector meeting with the regions, Churov advised Ingushetian committee chairman Musa Yevloyev to arrange video recording at polling stations, so that anyone questioning turnout figures after the election can be presented with evidence. He also proposed arranging for observers who represent parties and candidates to do their own count of voter numbers, and sign turnout reports to verify them.
The CPRF still doubts that Churov’s proposed measures will be effective. CPRF representative Andrei Klychkov, a CEC member with an advisory vote, told Kommersant: “Our observers have encountered a lot of pressure in the North Caucasus regions – they have been thrown out of polling stations and detained by police. And now they’ll be forced to sign some sort of turnout figure reports.”
Andrei Buzin, head of the Inter-Regional Voters’ Association, told Kommersant: “Video recording at selected polling stations won’t confirm turnout across a whole region anyway. After all, our country does have a tradition of arranging demonstrative efforts for the cameras.”
RBC Daily reports that LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has made an attempt to draw attention to the election – and to himself. While a campaign debate was being recorded in the Zvezda television channel’s studio, Zhirinovsky insulted Nikolai Gotsa, an authorized representative of DPR candidate Andrei Bogdanov: calling him stupid, crazy, and dishonest. After the debate, Zhirinovsky struck out at Gotsa with his fists.
But the experts approached by RBC Daily say that not even the sight of a brawling candidate can liven up this presidential campaign – because each candidate (except Dmitri Medvedev) is striving to promote his personal interests.
Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute: “Zyuganov needs to get a slightly larger share of the vote than the CPRF got in the parliamentary elections, in order to defeat his opponents within the party.” Zhirinovsky is competing with Zyuganov for second place, so he’s trying to shock the public. “And Bogdanov is in this election to gain status, which he will subsequently convert to his commercial projects.”
Medvedev’s own campaign has been far more mild, in comparison to the parliamentary elections – as Alexander Kynev from the International Institute of Humanities and Political Studies noted in an interview with Radio Liberty: “There haven’t been many cases of regional authorities or state officials directly calling on anyone to vote for Medvedev. Their support for this candidate has taken the form of supporting Putin’s policy course, supporting stability, supporting all the good things that have been done over the past few years.”
Commenting on United Russia’s low-profile participation in the presidential campaign, Kynev said that this is “a clear indication that Russia doesn’t have a party system at all.” In his view, this gives rise to a paradox: “Throughout last autumn, citizens were told that there’s the United Russia party which embodies the Putin Plan, and so on and so forth. Then the parliamentary elections came and went, and this party disappeared from public politics. The impression is that United Russia plays no role at all in the state, and neither do the other parties. The current campaign has merely emphasized that the whole party system is a simulation, of secondary importance.”
The For Putin (Za Putina) movement turned out to be equally ephemeral. After peaking with the campaign rally at Luzhniki Stadium last November, it ceased to be a newsmaker. It’s hard to imagine any movement with such a thoroughly correct political orientation simply vanishing from the newspapers, if it had any real achievements to its credit. But then the presidential campaign started, and the For Putin movement re-emerged to hold its second forum, where it called on everyone to vote on March 2. The movement argues that this is essential in order to legitimize the new ruling configuration. For Putin leader Pavel Astakhov told Kommersant that a unique model of political leadership may be created after March 2. According to Astakhov, the new ruling configuration will be a triumvirate: the president, the prime minister as national leader, and the parliamentary majority based on the United Russia party. Astakhov said: “No distinction should be drawn between Medvedev and Putin – they are a united tandem.”
But experts question the For Putin movement’s right to speak in the name of the people, and the notion of a ruling triumvirate.
CPRF Central Committee Secretary Oleg Kulikov told Kommersant: “The For Putin movement is unconvincing in the role of the people’s representative. We still don’t know very much about Medvedev. I think it’s premature to say that he’s part of any kind of configuration. He might turn out to be someone who dictates the situation himself, and might not agree with Putin on everything.”
Boris Makarenko, senior deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, points out that there are a great many differences between Medvedev and United Russia. Makarenko doubts that United Russia is the force on which the next president will want to rely.
Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, told RBC Daily that Medvedev’s campaign is very similar to Putin’s own campaigns in 2000 and 2004. Makarkin said: “Medvedev has already been presented to voters as a leader, a technocrat, a lawyer, and the incumbent’s closest ally. Now this image needs to be humanized, since some voters vote with their heads and others vote with their hearts.”
For this purpose, Medvedev made an emotional speech at a campaign rally in Nizhny Novgorod on February 27. As the Gazeta newspaper reports, Medvedev swore loyalty to Putin’s policy course: “If I am entrusted with governing the state, I undertake to continue along the path which has proved its effectiveness – President Putin’s path.” He noted that maintaining policy course continuity is “both a high honor and a personal challenge.” As the Vedomosti newspaper reports, he also thanked voters for his current and future achievements: “Nothing would have been achieved without your real assistance and involvement. I’m counting on your support in continuing to lead our country to success.”
Alexei Makarkin told RBC Daily that he can only see one difference between Putin’s campaigns and Medvedev’s campaign: “For the first time, the Kremlin’s candidate is sending a message not only to voters, but also to the ruling elite, which is intimidated by the omnipotence of the law enforcement agencies.”
Stanislav Belkovsky agrees: “Even before the election, Medvedev is consolidating the elite, promising it some relative liberalization in relations with the Kremlin.”