Amid a slew of familiar and unfavourable faces, Putin is likely to win another term as president.
Russia’s presidential election is set to take place on March 18, 2018.
– President Putin has announced he will run for an additional six-year term as a self-nominated candidate
– Putin is likely to remain in power
– Russia is once again looking at a standard set of candidates with the exception of television host Ksenia Sobchak
– Upon Putin’s victory, the government will likely to appoint a new prime minister.
THE MAN IN POWER
As expected, Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to seek re-election in 2018 for another six-year term. Twenty-six years have now passed since the Russian Federation’s transition from the Soviet Union. Yet Russia has only had three presidents in this period. Though the Russian presidential term was originally restricted to four years with a limit of two consecutive terms, it was extended to a six year period under former President Dmitry Medvedev, a close confidant of Putin and a member of his inner circle.
NEW YEAR, NEW FACES
Expect time-tested opposition leaders to again make an appearance on the 2018 ballots. As in the past, they will likely receive enough votes to look competitive but not enough to win. Liberal Democratic party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov will be running for president for their sixth and third time respectively. In a shock decision, Communist party leader Gennady Zuganov will not be participating in what would have been his sixth election; he has been replaced by largely unknown businessman Pavel Grudinin.
The most anticipated figure in this election was Alexey Navalny, a lawyer and prominent critic of Putin’s regime. But in a widely anticipated announcement on Christmas Day, authorities confirmed that Navalny has been barred from running due to a fraud charge – the result of a retrial of a 2013 embezzlement case. Navalny’s campaign workers have been under constant surveillance, especially during the protests around October 7, Putin’s birthday. On October 2, Navalny and his campaign manager were sentenced to 20 days in prison and on October 6, the day before the rallies on Putin’s birthday, security forces raided Navalny’s Moscow headquarters.
The final noteworthy candidate is Ksenia Sobchak, a prominent television host and daughter of the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak – who Putin served as deputy mayor. While her television fame and popularity are undeniable, Ksenia is yet to gain the trust of the public. In a Levada Center survey, 58% of respondents noted they had heard about Ksenia’s candidacy but would not vote for her.
There are several possible causes of the public’s distrust. Ksenia still bears the stigma of her career as the scandalous host of the reality television show ‘Dom 2’, where she was known for her unsavoury language and once assaulting her co-host. She has openly expressed her disapproval of the annexation of Crimea, announcing in an October 2017 press conference that, “from the point of view of international law, Crimea is Ukrainian”. Furthermore, she is a woman running in a traditionally male-dominated presidential race. Ksenia has said she is not expecting to win but rather wants to her candidacy to give people an alternate choice on a list of candidates that differs little from election to election. Her campaign slogan, ‘Against all’ – a reference to the against all box that was removed from the ballots in 2006 – gives voters the option to show their dissatisfaction with the system via her vote.
RUSSIA WITHOUT PUTIN?
Although discontent with Putin’s presidency is evident from rallies and protests, the majority of Russians genuinely support the long-time leader.
Putin’s current presidential term has not been short of foreign policy challenges. The international community’s response to the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election have all put Russia in an unfavourable spotlight on the global stage. But Putin’s popularity remains high. According to the Pew Research Center in spring 2017, 87% of Russians still have some or a lot of confidence in Putin’s handling of foreign affairs. His handling of domestic affairs, on the other hand, has seen a dip from 75% in 2013 to 60% – still a substantial majority. With a consistently high level of support, it is likely that voters will back Putin in March.
If Putin does win a second term, he may look to make changes within the government, including appointing a new prime minister. Putin and current Prime Minister Medvedev have worked closely together since Medvedev was appointed chief of staff in 2003. Medvedev also served as a ‘seat-warmer’ for Putin during Medvedev’s 2008-2012 term as president, only to resume his current position thereafter.
Despite the closeness of the relationship, Putin is still likely to choose a new sidekick. The global audience, and especially the Russian people, are keenly aware of the duo’s long-lasting hold on power. Given his 2018 candidacy, Putin is evidently not ready to step down from his position, but replacing Medvedev may send a message that Russia will take a new direction in the next six years.
Medvedev’s prime ministership has also become untenable; his reputation has been hit hard with accusations of corruption, including allegations that he used his position to obtain luxurious plots of wine country and several lavish palaces through various donations. Medvedev has also proved prone to mishaps in front of the press. During a 2016 visit to Crimea, a retiree claiming that the current pension is not enough to live on questioned the prime minister about the lack of an annual increase. Medvedev responded dismissively by referring to the government’s lack of funds, telling the crowd to ‘hang in there’ and that the government would increase the pension when it finds the money. His reply quickly spread on social media. Though Medvedev has repeatedly stumbled in the public eye, Putin has let him answer to the people while claiming credit for popular policies such as the annexation of Crimea.
After the conclusion of his next term, Putin may look for a successor from within his inner circle. History shows the prime ministership can be a stepping stone towards the presidency, and so all eyes will be on Medvedev’s replacement. Although it is hard to predict who will be nominated as the next prime minister, the candidate will likely have a personal connection with Putin. Given the national distrust in the prime minister, a strategic choice would be a popular regional governor or major city major, such as of Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who may earn public favour during a politically and economically challenging time. Couple with an endorsement by Putin, the promotion into the prime ministership would elevate a new figure in Russian politics.