MOSCOW - The surprisingly strong results of Russia's opposition parties in the recent parliamentary elections could have been a spark for next year's presidential campaign. Indeed, if you believe exit polls, the strong opposition showing was even stronger than the official results would have people believe. But why has the momentum fizzled so quickly?
The turnaround has apparently left opposition leaders so frightened that they started to disassociate themselves from the "street," essentially, from the very people who came to the Bolotnaya Square to defend the votes they gave to them. Indeed, various party leaders were spooked by their own success.
In a meeting with President Dimitry Medvedev, these same opposition leaders were calling the protesters an "orange threat." The bravest actions coming from the opposition was their attempt to force the resignation of the head of the electoral commission. But even that had a distinct business-as-usual feel to it.
Of course, in the presidential race, in contrast to the parliamentary elections, there can be only one winner. Vladimir Putin's opponents understand this fact perfectly. That is why, after winning a substantial number of Duma seats, the opposition leaders have essentially stopped making a public fuss, stopped denouncing the unfairness of the elections and stopped paying attention to their own voters.
The poor showing in the Duma elections has pushed Putin's United Russia party into an obviously insecure position. Still, the opposition has made no concerted effort to try to translate a win in the parliamentary balloting to a win in the presidential elections. Instead of making changes to account for the new circumstances, both the Communist Party and Liberal-Democratic Party have decided to run "veterans" for the presidency.
Same old faces
Sergei Mironov, the leader of Just Russia, is running for president, without having considered alternatives, although his party has some real possibilities. That only shows that he and his party are perfectly prepared to lose to candidate No. 1. Yabloko is presenting the same candidate as in the last two election cycles, refusing to consider other good possibilities. Instead, Mikhail Prokhorov is trying to attract the active part of the electorate. Yet even when Prokhorov announced he would run for president, he himself said that he saw no alternative to Putin.
The idea of presenting a single opposition candidate - either from the whole opposition or from the "democratic" opposition - was not even mentioned this time around. Just the opposite has come to pass: there are many candidates, and they are many differences among them.
Almost all of them have already lost at least once, and several of them have lost many times. These candidates will campaign with many different platforms - nationalization, defense of the Russian people, even the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But none of them really intend to become the new anti-Putin leader. And the chance that any one of them could win in 2012 is no more likely then the apocalypse itself.
In this case, a full-fledged electoral campaign would be nothing more than a waste of money for the opposition. And a possible loss of moral authority, if a candidate who is more successful than expected gets spooked. The only people who will try to create a direct connection between the Duma elections and the presidential elections are the Kremlin's own political scientists (who Putin really does need, if he doesn't want to repeat what happened to United Russia in the parliament).
On the other hand, moving out of Putin's way is a pragmatic choice for the Duma's opposition parties. In the end, the opposition is going to have to work with the ruling power, not with the citizens, for the next five years. And the ruling power is not going to be happy with excessive activism. That's why it is completely logical that the opposition parties would do everything possible not to interfere with Putin's election, and even to make sure he wins outright in the first round.
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Photo - WEF