The discontent over controversial pension reform increasing the retirement age keeps on snowballing, as the readiness of Russians for mass protests over economic policies has risen from a record low to top 40% for the first time since 2009, Vedomosti daily said on August 1 citing the data of the Levada Center pollster.
After months of silence President Vladimir Putin finally spoke out on the pension reform at the end of June, but did not firmly denounce it or pledge any concrete adjustments to the pension hike.
Putin’s popularity has taken what is amongst the biggest hits since taken office as the approval indicators for the government have fallen across the board. Putin’s own personal popularity, that underpins the stability of the Russian political system, has also tanked, falling from 82% in April this year to 67% as of July, despite his efforts to distance himself from the changes to the pension rules that will see retirement ages raised to 60 for women from the current 55 years and 65 for men from the current 60 years.
The population is very unhappy with the changes, which is a perk left over from the Soviet era. Over 37% of the respondents of the recent poll are ready to protest the pension reform, while 64% are convinced of its negative consequences on the well being of their own household.
The propensity to protest with economic demands has also spiked in the reporting period jumping from 17% in March to 34% according to Levada.
Previous unconfirmed reports claimed that the Kremlin is considering scaling its pension reform back, worried that the pro-Putin United Russia party will face difficulties in the upcoming regional elections in September due to the reform.
The changes are needed to modernise the pension system, which is eating up about a third of the budget and will also go a long way to addressing Russia’s demographic problems. The increase in the retirement age is expected to add some 5mn workers to the work force that will roughly cover the losses caused by a demographic dip working its way through from the chaos of the 90s when life expectancy for men plummeted to 56 years.
The change will also ease the pressure on the budget. The Ministry of Finance is trying to find an addition RUB2 trillion a year in fresh revenue from a typical budget spend of around RUB16 trillion to pay for Putin’s RUB8 trillion spending extravaganza outlined in the president’s latest May Decrees.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who formally heads the government that is imposing the cuts and was the public figure to sign off on them, has also seen his popularity plunge from 42% in May to 37% in July – its lowest level since 2013 and lower than the hit he took following an exposé by anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny claiming the prime minister is worth over $1bn.
In the meantime, the rating of the United Russia declined to 37% as of July 22, plummeting by 16pp as compared to January 2018, according to the data by another pollster VTSIOM. United Russia won just over 50% of the vote in the last general elections, but is unlikely to be able to repeat that success in the next elections. The approval rating of the government in general has also taken a big hit falling from 47% in May to 37% in July, while the Duma has fared even worse with its approval dropping by 10 pp from 43% to 33% over the same period.
Ironically the indicator that has done the least badly is the poll asking if the respondents think Russia is going in the right direction, which has fallen from 56% in May to 48% in July.