Where’s the Candidate?

PutinOn Wednesday November 28th, Rossiyskaya Gazeta published a decree by the Federation Council on the start of the March 2008 presidential election. This legal technicality propelled the official electoral campaign in Russia into action.

Intentions to participate have already been revealed by a number of prominent people, including United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, Yabloko head Grigory Yavlinksy, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party, Nikolai Kuryanovich, dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, Union of Right Forces head Boris Nemtsov, and the leader of the People’s Democratic Union, Mikhail Kasyanov. Still missing are candidates from the pro-Kremlin United Russia and Just Russia parties. Documents need to be turned in by December 12th, and the official registration of candidates will take place on January 16th.

The campaigning period for presidential candidates will span from February 2nd to the 29th. 5.2 billion rubles are prescribed in the 2007-2008 Federal budget for the presidential campaign.

President Vladimir Putin is barred from seeking a third term by the Constitution, although a movement asking him to stay is in full swing. With little actual information and tight lips from the current administration, pundits are left guessing at what Putin will do. For the most part, the chatter is pure (if educated) speculation. One thing is known: any candidate endorsed by Putin (or Putin himself) is likely to take the election in a landslide.

In the opinion of political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky, the president will put forward two successor candidates for the vote at the last possible minute. As Radzikhovsky told Sobkor®ru, this move will force voters to choose between two equal candidates, and will ensure that no single person will take more votes in the presidential election than the United Russia party in State Duma elections. In this way, Putin the “national leader” will hold more legitimacy than the future president. “This will be a strong psychological factor,” Radzikhovsky said. He added that the most likely successor candidates are public figures with the same standing as Sergei Ivanov and Dmitri Medvedev. “Putin needs a significantly less legitimate president than himself,” the analyst said. Asked where Putin will seek employment after his term is up, the analyst hesitated, but confidently commented that the president won’t remain in civil service, and that he won’t become prime minister.

The director of Russia’s Center for Strategic Studies, Andrei Piontkovsky, also ruled out the possibility that Putin would agree to take a lower-level position than president. In his version, Putin’s successor will be Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. The premier will be elected, then will step down after a short time citing health reasons. In the subsequent early elections, Vladimir Putin will easily and “legally” take office.