Russian Presidential election of 2012: People's protests for the democracy train
Russia built the Trans-Siberian Railway during its industrial revolution. Nowadays the Sapsan (the Peregrine Falcon) express train connects Moscow and St. Petersburg, a distance of 700 kilometers, in just 225 minutes. Today, Mr. Putin is promising 145 million Russian passengers a safe, comfortable and pleasant journey toward democracy on his train. The 2012 Russian presidential election is scheduled to take place on March 4, 2012. When Vladimir Putin announced in September that he would be running as presidential candidate, no one had any doubts that he would return to the position he held between 2000 and 2008. Putin won his first presidential election with 54 percent of the vote and his second in 2004 with 71 percent. Under the Russian Constitution, presidents can serve two consecutive terms of office. The length of the presidential term of office has been extended from four years to six from the 2012 elections. In 2008, Putin stepped aside to let fellow party member Dmitry Medvedev take the reins while Putin served as his prime minister. As a central figure in Russian politics for more than a decade, he has enjoyed high approval ratings as both president and prime minister. Apart from United Russia, there are six other nationally registered political parties, but no outstanding presidential candidates among any of them. While covering a wide range of political viewpoints, from nationalist to liberal, none of them enjoys widespread appeal among the voters.
In this article, we will focus on the forthcoming Russian presidential election and argue that it will result in a third term in office for Mr. Putin. We will also try to find an answer to the crucial question of whether political development in Russia is moving toward greater democracy. Furthermore, we will be emphasizing the link between development and democracy in Russia.
UNDERSTANDING THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION NOMINEES
Is there a big margin between Russian political elites and the public? Why do people criticize the recent Duma elections in a way that has not been seen since the beginning of Putin’s administration? Is there a threat to Russian democracy which could lead to chaos and a breakdown of normal political life? How popular is Mr. Putin notwithstanding these protests and how long can he enjoy such popularity in the years ahead?
In a doctrinal framework, among a number of analysts there is an ongoing argument on the aspects of the consolidation of post-communist democracies and party systems. As Gary Cox points out, party systems are subject to market-clearing expectations that in the long term produce equilibrium between the demand and supply of candidates.
With a membership of more than 180,000, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is the strongest opposition party. Its candidate has been second in every presidential election since the demise of the Soviet Union. Gennady Zyuganov, the party leader, lost the first-round vote to then-President Boris Yeltsin in 1996 by a margin of just 3 percent.
Although the KPRF has attracted prestigious candidates opposed to the ruling regime, they have generally lacked ideological credentials. Mr. Zyuganov, aged 67, has ruled the party since 1993, but now relies largely on protest votes for his popularity. After he announced his intention to run for president, he said: “A gang of people who cannot do anything in life apart from make dollars and profits and mumble has humiliated the country.”
A Just Russia also appeals to a left-leaning electorate with promises of a new socialism for the 21st century. The party is commonly rumored to have been set up by the Kremlin in 2006 to take votes away from the Communists. Its leader Sergei Mironov was speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament from 2001 to 2011. Formerly a faithful Putin supporter, he announced his intention to run for president last December.
Another long-standing political actor is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) since its foundation in 1991. While claiming to be anti-government, boasting several nationalist slogans, the party has voted in favor of almost all major government initiatives. The remaining parties – the liberal-leaning Yabloko, Right Cause and Patriots of Russia – only have single-figure approval ratings, so do not pose a credible opposition. Yabloko put forward the economist and intellectual Grigory Yavlinsky as its candidate in the election. Russian billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov also announced his candidacy to run for the country’s top office. For most of the past decade, big money has stayed out of Russian politics. But this year Mr. Prokhorov joined the Right Cause party – designed to appeal to a liberal-leaning, urban electorate – and announced his intention to take Mr. Putin’s job as prime minister. Mr. Prokhorov’s announcement that he would be running as an independent caused a stir in the media – especially after he promised to release the jailed oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky if he was elected.
Current Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin will win the presidential election on March 4 with 58.6 percent of the vote in the first round, according to a survey conducted by the state-run polling institution VTsIOM. The poll surveyed 1,600 people across Russia on February 11 and 12, 2012. “On February 11, we conducted a survey and forecast the following: Vladimir Putin will win 58.6 percent of the vote, KPRF candidate Gennady Zyuganov will take second place with 14.8 percent, and Liberal Democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky will come in third with 9.4 percent. Billionaire presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov will get 8.7 percent of the vote and A Just Russia's Sergei Mironov will get 7.7 percent,” VTsIOM Head Valery Fyodorov said on Monday.
Stability, the lack of a viable alternative and patriotism were the main reasons behind another likely victory for Putin. Many people say that they cannot see any other candidate capable of leading Russia right now. The most repeated slogan in his campaign is “Vote for stability – vote for Putin!”. Many Russians view Putin as the strong, decisive figure that is needed by a sprawling country plagued by corruption, an Islamist insurgency and massive economic inequality.
“Under Putin we have stability and food on the table. What more can you ask for?” asks a Russian man who joined in one of the meetings held in Moscow in support of Mr. Putin. “I want stability to continue – and that is what we have now. Of course, Russia has lots of problems, but Putin has built a foundation for the future. I don’t want a return to the 1990s, and the economic default of 1998,” said engineer Sergei Andreyev in the same meeting. “If Putin fails to win in the first round of elections and has to face a run-off, this will be a major signal from society that things need to change,” says Dmitry Babich, a political analyst at RIA Novosti. “But I’m sure he’ll win in the second round. There’s not a single figure to unite the opposition like there was in 1991; there isn't even a group of individuals who could agree among themselves.”
Mesut Hakkı Caşin is Professor of Yeditepe University, International Relations Department.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.