In Russia, A Presidential Campaign No One Could Have Predicted
Analysis: Vladimir Putin remains the overwhelming favorite Sunday to return to the Kremlin as Russia’s president, following a term as prime minister. Still, with opposition to Putin growing, it was a memorable campaign -- even before it began.
MOSCOW – Friday was the last day of political campaigning before Russia's presidential elections on Sunday. The ads, television appearances and rallies go silent over the weekend, when campaigning is forbidden. Kommersant's political team looks back at the most interesting episodes from a history-making presidential campaign.
New Playing Field
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Vladimir Putin ran up against massive protests for the first time. The lead up to the presidential elections were accompanied by rallies, sparked largely by anger at alleged voting fraud during parliamentary elections in December. The turnout for the protests, which started the day after the parliamentary elections, surprised even the organizers.
Vladimir Putin answered the protesters in his own manner. He called those protesting against him "monkeys," and compared the movement's symbol - a white ribbon - to a condom. But the protests continued, becoming both larger and increasingly anti-Putin. At one point, the slogan "For Fair Elections' morphed into "Not A Single Vote For Putin."
The governing party also held rallies around the whole country. While those rallies were also numerous, observers noted that many of the attendees had been brought in from all over the country, and were not necessarily there out of political conviction.
It is clear that both the anti-Putin and pro-Putin rallies will continue after the elections. But Vladimir Putin, even if he wins the presidential elections, will face a part of society that is actively opposed to his leadership. One of the most important questions in this election is whether Putin will be prepared for dialogue with his opponents, or whether he will take a much harder line.
"United Russia," Putin's party, supported his presidential campaign even before the parliamentary election. He was able to benefit from parliamentary perks, such as being able to register as a candidate without voters' signatures, observers and platform discussions - everything that Putin could share with his party's chair.
Putin's campaign dreamed up an image of a President who represents all Russians, the whole people. Putin tried to reinforce that by enlisting popular figures like the film director Stanislav Govorukhin, who became Putin's campaign chairman, and starting the "All-Russia People's Front," a coalition that is supposed to give Russian politics and Putin new momentum. These tactics turned out well for both Putin and United Russia. In spite of rumors of United Russia's demise, the party's approval rating improved during the campaign.
Where have you gone Dimitri Medvedev?
The elections in 2012 were the first ones since 1991 when the sitting president did not take an active role in the campaign. Dimitri Medvedev, at the head of the United Russia list in the parliamentary elections, has not been active in his support for Vladimir Putin. Stanislav Govorukhin, Putin's campaign chairman, publicly accused the current president, saying "He's just... totally silent." According to Govorukhin, Medvedev could, without breaking any laws, "provide more active support for the person who he put forward as a presidential candidate."
Truth and Monitoring
The 2012 elections were the first ones when trust in the truth of the elections results became almost as important as the candidates and their platforms.
On December 15, Vladimir Putin announced that the complaints about the parliamentary elections were "secondary" and that the most important goal was the upcoming presidential elections. "In order to pull the carpet out from under those who would like to delegitimize the government party," Putin suggested putting web-cams at each of the 95 election districts around Russia to monitor the voting process.
And yet, only those with a special log-in will be able to access the videos, and there were no particular sanctions specified for violations caught by the web-cams. The practice, furthermore, may not even be accepted by courts in case any alleged fraud is filmed.
On December 24, the journalist Leonid Parfenov suggested that voters themselves should come together to monitor the elections. Within a week, 16,000 volunteers had registered on a website to monitor elections in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At the same time, a plethora of other election-monitoring projects and websites sprung up around the country. The projects remain a motley mix, experts say, and more concentrated in urban areas than in the countryside, where there is much more difficulty getting citizen observers.
Race for Second
It is not the first run for many of the opposition presidential candidates. But the goal this time is to capture a larger percentage of the vote then their parties did in the parliamentary elections. While the opposition has not managed to present one candidate to represent the whole anti-Putin movement, most eyes are on political newbie Mikhail Prokhorov, both to see his results in the election and gauge his next political moves.
Read the original article in Russian
Photo - andyindesign