Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s predictions for the presidential election

With less than a year to go before the presidential election, neither the elites nor voters have any clear impression of who could actually lead Russia after Putin. There are many competing forecasts – and LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has a forecast of his own.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), says he is certain that he will be a candidate in next year’s presidential election. He predicts that other candidates will include the present defense minister, an independent Duma member, and the Communist Party (CPRF) leader.

In a live interview broadcast on Echo of Moscow Radio, Zhirinovsky described an election scenario without any “successors” in the race: “Having a designated successor means something approaching a monarchy. Let’s not insult our people: there can’t be a successor in a democracy.” These broad theoretical considerations may be why Zhirinovsky doesn’t think much of the chances of those who are generally believed to be potential successors.

Zhirinovsky maintains that contrary to current assumptions, the “most realistic” Kremlin-backed candidate won’t be Senior Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov; it will be Ivanov’s replacement as defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov: “He has the cleanest and most neutral career record – there’s nothing that could be held against him.” Zhirinovsky says that Ivanov’s KGB background would count against him: “More chekists, more intelligence agents, more siloviki – that’s what people would say.”

Senior Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, the other potential successor, is “rather weak,” according to Zhirinovsky: “He’s still a young man, after all, and he’s handling issues which are never entirely successful – education, health care, agriculture.” These are the “most run-down” areas of activity. “In the Soviet era, being placed in charge of these areas was a dead end for any career,” says Zhirinovsky.

In Zhirinovsky’s view, if the liberal opposition endorses any common presidential candidate, that candidate will be Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent Duma member. In contrast to Mikhail Kasyanov and Viktor Gerashchenko, Ryzhkov hasn’t yet announced an intention to run for president; but Zhirinovsky maintains that Ryzhkov would have the best chance of consolidating the protest vote: “He has already identified himself as a democrat, and the West thinks very highly of him.”

Zhirinovsky is rather skeptical about the chances of other opposition leaders: “Kasparov is weak – he’s just a chess player. There’s too much dirt on Kasyanov. And Gerashchenko is too old.” Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has also been suggested as a presidential candidate, but Zhirinovsky says: “It won’t work. He’s been an emigre for the past 30 years – he’s probably forgotten how to speak Russian.”

For all his kind words about Ryzhkov, Zhirinovsky adds that a presidential candidate representing the liberal opposition couldn’t get more than 10% of the vote. Therefore, according to Zhirinovsky, the real power-struggle in March 2008 should unfold between “representatives of the Kremlin, the LDPR, and the CPRF.” Modestly, Zhirinovsky predicts: “Here are the three candidates: Serdyukov, Zyuganov, and myself.”

But the situation regarding CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov isn’t all that obvious. It became clear last week that Just Russia, the party led by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, will (sooner or later) attempt to claim the electorate comprising the heirs of Lenin and Stalin. “In future, we will create a powerful Russian socialist party including all the left-wing forces,” said Mironov, implying that after taking over the minor leftist parties, Just Russia will try to do the same to the CPRF. However, regardless of how relations develop between Russia’s oldest and newest left-wing parties, Zyuganov is still likely to run for president in 2008. This only supports the analytican significance of Zhirinovsky’s scenario.

Zhirinovsky has one of the longest track records as a presidential candidate: he’s been involved in every presidential campaign since 1991, with the sole exception of 2004, when Oleg Malyshkin served as his stand-in. All the same, the scenario described by Zhirinovsky is both funny and sad. If you think about it, the “Serdyukov, Zyuganov, and myself” configuration – although it might sound like a joke – is actually one of the most probable scenarios.

The first name in this trio might be different, of course. (Some believe in Ivanov’s rising star, some believe in Medvedev, and others are hoping for Vladimir Yakunin, Sergei Chemezov, or Valentina Matviyenko – so why shouldn’t Zhirinovsky back Serdyukov?) Even the Zyuganov-Zhirinovsky tandem might be altered, although the current circumstances make any changes unlikely (but they were replaced by the Kharitonov-Malyshkin tandem in the election of 2004, in order to facilitate a win for Vladimir Putin in the first round of voting).

The funny and sad aspect of the situation is this: with less than a year to go before the presidential election, neither the elites nor voters have any clear impression of who could actually lead Russia after Putin, given that Putin does seem intent on stepping down.

It’s certainly clear that neither Zhirinovsky nor Zyuganov will win the presidential election; and to all appearances, “the Kremlin’s representative” (as Zhirinovsky puts it) is certain to win. But the identity of this mysterious “representative,” and who or what (other than Putin) stands behind him, and what we can expect from him – all this remains top secret.

What’s more, the identity of the Kremlin’s candidate isn’t the only mystery. The same applies to the candidate representing the “dissenter” opposition, which is experiencing similar problems: an acute shortage of moral leadership.