RUSSIA VOTES: Putin for prime minister

By bne IntelliNews September 7, 2011

bne -

United Russia is on track to win 64% of the seats in the parliamentary elections set for December, which with a little tweaking of the results should lead to bne'sfollow-on scenario for the twin Duma and presidential elections: Vladimir Putin will remain prime minister and Dmitry Medvedev will keep his job as president.

Professor Lev Gudov, director of the independent pollster Levada Centre, says in an exclusive interview with bne that the ruling party United Russia currently would win 54% of those who said they have already made up their minds which way to vote, which would translates into 64% of the Duma seats in Russia's proportional representation system - just two points less than a constitutional majority and less than the 70% of the seats United Russia has now.

Levada's results are mirrored by the results from the state controlled VTsIOM (All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion), which also predicts United Russia will win 64% of the seats.

A figure of 64% of the Duma seats is a problem for Putin, but only a small one. As bne speculated in its piece Putin for president , Putin will probably stay as on PM if he has control of a constitutional majority, 66%, in the Duma. If United Russia wins 64%, there'll be the temptation to "tweak" the results and add the missing seats, which is what experts think happened last time. "In the last election, we estimate between 5% and 8% of the votes were falsified," says Gudkov.

A small fix of only 2 percentage points would be easy to organise and the result sufficiently close to the actually result that such a tweak is unlikely to cause the kind of popular dissent seen in the Belarusian elections last December, where President Alexander Lukashenko clearly ordered a massive rigging of votes.

And if Putin decides to stay on as PM, the most likely candidate for president is Dmitry Medvedev, although a dark horse candidate is always possible. Kudrin has been proposed as a possible replacement prime minister, but he is far too independent for Putin to trust him in the role of president.

Just Russia fate hanging

Where the two polls differ is that Levada predicts only three parties will get into the Duma on the December 4 vote: United Russia (64%), Communists (22%) and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats (15%) with the latter two improving their positions from the current Duma (see chart).

However, VTsIOM predicts the Liberal Democrats will share their votes with A Just Russia, which serves in the current Duma, and both parties will get about 8%. Both pollsters say none of the other parties will clear the 7% threshold, including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's business-friendly Right Cause.

Gudkov says that the poll trends are playing out almost exactly like previous elections in 2003 and 2007, with the current 54% approval rating within 2 points of United Russia's approval in the last two elections in each of the monthly polls the Centre has conducted this year.

Typically in November there is a surge in United Russia's popularity as the big guns are wheeled out and in the previous two elections United Russia went into the vote with ratings of 67% and 69% respectively.

Moreover, Zhirinovsky is unpredictable, as Gudkov says he is a "late finisher," pulling in most his voters in the last two weeks before the vote as he travels to depressed regional cities with this colourful nationalistic rhetoric and captures the swing vote.

A really interesting result would be if Putin accepts the 64% result and ensures his constitutional majority by relying on Zhirinovsky's vote if a crisis breaks out. This doesn't seem like Putin's style, although Zhirinovsky is clearly open to be bought.

On the one hand, the continuation of the tandem ensures political stability in the short to medium term and steady progress in the reform drive. But it could also lead to stagnation in the longer term as the corrupt client system between government and business becomes increasingly entrenched.

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