by Mateusz Zatonski
The Russian presidential elections will be taking place on Sunday, March 4th. Voting has already been going on for weeks as light-house keepers, reindeer herders and gold seekers inhabiting the most remote areas of this enormous country have been given a go at the ballot box.
Closer to civilization, Russia has been shaken by numerous mass-protests in the run-up to elections. Russians outraged at the rife electoral fraud that marred the December parliamentary elections went to the streets in various rallies, happenings and anti-Kremlin concerts. Although the protests constituted the largest popular expression of dissatisfaction with Putin’s rule since he took power, many observers noted that the protesters were largely confined to urban circles of students and intellectuals.
In the meantime the polls indicate that Putin does not have to worry about the results. Not only is he predicted to gain over 50% of the vote, but his opposition is also bitterly divided. This was clearly illustrated in the recent debate between the nationalist candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the representative of big business Mikhail Prokhorov. The debate, broadcasted on Russia’s nationwide Rossiya channel, quickly descended into an aggressive shouting match as both candidates tried to outbid each other in pointing out the other’s links with the Kremlin. Looking at this farcical spectacle it was hard not to think how well it all fit in Putin’s plan of representing himself as the only politician responsible and strong enough to lead the Russian nation.
Early voting somewhere in a remote Russian province
The presidential bid increasingly shapes up to be smooth sailing for Putin. With the divided opposition, large support outside the intellectual urban elites, and virtual control of the state’s most influential media, any surprises seem unlikely. After December’s irregularities the elections are likely to be closely scrutinized by Russian activists and foreigners alike, but this may just have the effect of further legitimizing Putin’s dominance over Russian politics if no serious misdeeds are detected (and it seems unlikely the Kremlin will be as inadvertent this time).