In a bid to avoid adding grist to the mill of the recent protest movement, the Kremlin has told governors to ensure the Russian presidential elections are fair, as the authorities' election goal changes from maximising the pro-government vote to minimizing scandals.
The instruction was made at a meeting chaired by the new first deputy of the presidential administration Vyacheslav Volodin, reports Vedomosti, and marks a retreat from the "managed democracy" advocated by Volodin's predecessor Vladislav Surkov. Surkov's political machinations did much to spark the mass protests that followed the parliamentary elections in December.
According to two sources present at the meeting, writes Vedomosti, Volodin said: "A middle class has appeared in Russia which wants an open dialogue with the authorities and in order to take it seriously the authorities' task must be to implement this legal demand (for fair elections)." According to the sources, Volodin told the governors their election goals should now be to minimise scandals rather than maximize the pro-government vote.
Assuming the instructions carry more weight than merely playing to the gallery, they represent a rational policy for the Kremlin in view of the fact that current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is certain to win the presidential elections anyway. Instead, in the present environment, the main concern is to secure legitimacy by avoiding outrage in terms of electoral manipulation.
Volodin also said Putin's rating is growing, but it is not certain that he will take 50% in the first round, so a second round of voting cannot be ruled out. According state-owned pollster VTsIOM, Putin's rating grew 4% over the last week to 52%. Public Opinion Foundation records his rating fluctuating between 42-45% since December. This means that Russia may be in for its first second-round presidential vote since Boris Yeltsin faced off against Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov in 1996, and narrowly won.
It also implies some heightened political risk in Russia in the short-term, and the possible demand for a mid-term increase in legitimacy given the potential long-term problems. If Putin's win is unconvincing he will have to hold out for a mammoth six-year term in office.
According to Vedomosti sources, Volodin also pointed out to the governors that starting in summer 2012 they themselves will be up for election, due to the reintroduction of direct gubernatorial elections by outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev. Sixteen of them are set to face the ballot box by the end of the year, and according to the bill introduced by Medvedev one week ago, no "presidential filter" - a vetting of candidates for the post of governor by the Kremlin - will be there to stand between them and the people.
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