Putin not Yeltsin yet

By bne IntelliNews November 25, 2011

bne -

While the media speculate about Vladimir Putin's popularity level falling fast enough to reach Yeltsinesque single figures, opinion polls actually show a stable majority in favour of Russia's current prime minister and soon-to-be-again president.

For all the schadenfreude at the drop in support for the Putin/Medvedev tandem, opinion polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation - admittedly suspected of pro-Kremlin proclivities - show that 55% of respondents approve of Putin's decision to reclaim the presidency and 51% of Medvedev's self-demotion to prime minister. Meanwhile, just 24% are against the "castling" move.

Given that Russia and the Putin system of government urgently need more opposition and tougher challengers, the drop in popularity from the absurd 60-70% level is seen as more of a normalisation than the end of an era, and may herald a welcome return to real politics.

The crucial question is how the pro-Kremlin party United Russia will react to the drop come the Duma elections on December 4 - by acknowledging reality or trying to fake it. If they fake it conspicuously, it could spark a loss of legitimacy, and possibly a race to the bottom should the economy then turn bad again due to the Eurozone crisis.

One of the biggest ironies of the crisis that kicked off in 2008 is that the biggest political disruption has not been in the developed countries worst hit by the crisis (although many have had changes of government), but in the authoritarian Arab countries which have been only marginally affected by the crisis (in the form of quantitative easing-fuelled food price spikes).

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