Putin understands that the presidential election will be a serious fight
On December 15, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke at the 10th annual live Q&A session on key socio-political issues. Alexandr Rahr, Director of the Russia/Eurasia Program of the German Council on Foreign Relations, shares his views on Putin’s performance and the 2012 presidential election with Valdaiclub.com.
What is your impression from the 10th annual live Q&A session with the Prime Minister?
I attended what I’d call a very interesting Russian party. Everything was very democratic. There were all kinds of interesting people in the hall. The questions asked were very pointed, even with a hint of sarcasm. I liked the anchor, who did not shy away from the election-related questions that came through to the hotline.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seemed to be rather relaxed. I had the impression that he did not use the session to push his agenda but was interested in eliciting a response from the audience, high-profile people who are well respected in Russia, such as Valery Gergiev, artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater, or film director Nikita Mikhalkov. Putin needed their expressions of support. This makes an interesting start to the election campaign, a specifically Russian one.
Has anything changed in the views of the PM on political situation in Russia since the 8th Valdai Meeting? In your opinion, what are the possible scenarios for the 2012 presidential elections?
The elections were still a long way off when the Valdai meeting took place. I think Putin was sure that his decision to return to the presidency and swap places with Medvedev made a good impression on people. People believed in stability again. He was sure that the vote would be successful and hoped that United Russia would easily receive more than 50% of votes. Everyone, Putin included, was confident that the presidential election would be yet another cakewalk, as they were four and eight years ago. Now Putin understands that this will be a serious fight. He also knows that this presidential election will be the most complicated for him and that it may go to a second round. I think that he is not psychologically ready for this but understands that this is inevitable. Too many voters associate United Russia with the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This is good for many. However, it will be difficult to win the presidential election with United Russia in its current shape. Therefore, Putin understands that something has to be changed but doesn’t quite understand what. For the time being, he is merely sending signals about his support for liberalization, as Medvedev did.
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