Politics

The Kremlin surprise package

Article published on Aug. 1, 2007
Article published on Aug. 1, 2007
In March 2008 Russia's presidential elections will be held. Although no single one seems capable of taking the lead, candidates are appearing at the pace of mushroom growth

Until now there were only two candidates running to be Putin’s successor, Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, both from St. Petersburg and both currently Deputy Prime Ministers. The first, a professor's son, is seen in the Kremlin as ‘liberal’. He proposes to continue his policy of wide social programmes (such as government funding to education services) and promote the development of Russian cities. Ivanov, in contrast, fancies himself a hardliner and is in charge of industry in Russia.

Apart from these two main candidates, however, it seems the Kremlin wants to spice up the run-up to the elections, as every now and then it pulls out a little something from its surprise package. During his visit to Washington in mid June, Presidential Advisor Igor insisted that there may be more than two candidates. People should prepare themselves for a surprise. Putin had not intended to alter the Constitution in order to run for a third term. As to when the Kremlin would announce his successor, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained that the president would only comment on presidential candidates once they were official.

‘Mysterious attack on female governor’

The list of possible candidates who enjoy the favour of the Kremiln is becoming longer and longer. Vladimir Yakunin, Head of the Russian Railway is frequently named, but Valentina Matviyenko, the female governor of St. Petersburg suddenly seems to be presidential material. However, her suddenly being counted amongst candidates has a dubious cause. It could be linked to an alleged plot to assassinate Matviyenko recently uncovered by the secret service. Critics of the regime are more skeptical and suspect a PR-trick in fact meant to favour this new Kremlin-backed presidential candidate.

Putin himself recently declared himself in favour of a lengthening of the presidential period of office to seven years and explained that a female governor could possibly be considered for office. The Iswestija newspaper gave the names of two more governors to run in the presidential elections: Aleksandr Tkatschew, governor of the South Russian area Krasnodar and known for his nationalistic attacks against Armenian guest workers; and Aleksandr Chloponin, governor of Krasnoyarsk (Siberia), and former director of the world’s largest nickel-producing company in Norilsk, northern Russia.

Observers feel that amongst Putin’s possible succesors is Sergei Naryshkin. The Deputy Prime Minister has until now only rarely appeared in public. He belongs to the grey cardinals of the Russian government. Naryshkin is the author of several law reforms and in government he is responsible for the relationship between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the EU. The grey cardinals are from St. Petersburg's elite school. At the beginning of the 1990s the 52-year-old worked with Putin in the state administration of the city of Newa.

Kasparov’s dreams

Nor has the opposition managed to produce an adequate candidate. Former chess world champion and leader of the opposition's Coalition for Democracy, the Other Russia, Garry Kasparov hopes for a common candidate of the liberal, left-orientated and nationalist parties. Although he insists that 'only a united front could successfully challenge the 'regime'', the coalition failed in its Moscow conference on 7 and 8 July to produce just that.

The Democrats have produced four official candidates so far. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and former Head of the Central Bank Victor Gerashenko, are running for the Other Russia. Both, however, lack Putin's connection with the people which Kasparov insists is crucial for success in a presidential election.

Surprisingly, an ex-dissident living abroad has also announced his candidacy. Author Vladimir Bukovsky spent eight years in various detention camps because of ‘anti-Soviet activity’. Since 1976, the 65-year-old has been living in Great Britain. The author himself, however, doesn’t rate his chances as particularly high.

No less surpising, but somewhat more tragic, was the candidacy of Alexander Donskoi, mayor of the north-Russian town of Arkhangelsk. Surprising, because he does not belong to a party, just like Bukovsky. Tragic, because no sooner had his candidacy been made official than he was paraded through the streets in nothing but underwear, only then to be locked up first in a public cage and then in prison -treatment fit for a criminal.

Self-centeredness

The chairman of the liberal Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky, will also run in the elections. His liberal competitors from the Union of Right-Wing Forces criticise him for his adjustment to the politics of the Kremlin.

The Communist Party have also put forward their Chairman Gennady Zyuganov to run in the presidential election. The offer to join with Kasparov’s the Other Russia was declined by the Communist Party Chairman.

The fact that there is no unity amongst Putin’s opposition shows above all an air of self-centeredness. There are many leaders but little connection with the people. Observers claim that political strategists in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the fragmentation. They are said to have lured parts of the opposition with incentives.

The author is a member of the correspondent network - n-ost