Russia Elections 2008 – Victor Zubkov vs. Boris Gryzlov?
If anyone thought that Russia might reverse the course towards totalitarianism that’s been mapped out by Vladimir Putin, they’d best think again. Recent rhetoric coming from Putin sounds pluralistic. In September, the Russian president said “we already see five candidates” who could vie for the country’s highest office when elections are held in March 2008. But looking at the candidates, it’s clear that they are all virtual unknowns who owe their allegiance to – who else? – Putin.
In September, Putin removed his prime minister, Mikhail Fradkov, replacing him with Victor Zubkov, 66, an obscure former tax-police director from St. Petersburg. Almost overnight, Zubkov has become one of the favorites to succeed Putin.
Fradkov’s removal is a key barometer for the election. Fradkov was not only Russia’s prime minister but also the chairman of the State Duma. Nevertheless, once Fradkov was ousted, the Duma immediately approved Zubkov by majority vote. Putin’s announcement of Zubkov’s promotion was telling. “Last year there was not a single candidate, but now there are five,” he said. “The new prime minister [Zubkov] will have a chance to run for the presidency in the 2008 elections as [would] any normal citizen of Russia.”
Zubkov’s appointment, coming just a few months before the presidential elections, is reminiscent of the same process that brought Putin to power. On December 31, 1999, then-President Boris Yeltsin resigned and appointed Putin to take over the presidency. Putin won the May 2000 election and has been in power ever since.
What remains to be seen is how Russian voters view Zubkov. Although he is a virtual unknown, the fact that he is allied with Putin may be the only qualification he needs, because the opposition parties appear to be too weak to challenge Putin’s hold on the levers of power. Results of a recent poll by the Russian polling firm VCIOM demonstrate that the opposition parties are languishing and cannot hope for more than minority representation in the Duma. The poll shows that Putin’s favorite party, United Russia, has an overwhelming lead. Headed by Putin’s ally Boris Gryzlov, the party is preferred by some 45 percent of voters. Who came in second in the VCIOM poll? “Difficult to say,” with 16 percent. Third place was garnered by “Will not participate,” with 15 percent. The old hardliners with the Communist Party came in a distant fourth, with a whopping 8 percent of the poll. There appears to be no chance for a voting breakthrough in the coming two months that would bring forward liberal or democratic thinking, and it looks like the outcome of the Duma elections, scheduled for December 2, is preordained. Indeed, it appears that for the most part, the new Duma will be a clone of the current one. And that means that Gryzlov will almost certainly be one of five Putin-approved candidates vying for the presidency in March.
So it’s best to forget any ideas about democracy or western-style pluralism emerging any time soon in Russia. Putin’s Soviet-style course will almost certainly be preserved by his successor.
VCIOM’s September 8th polls: “Which party would
you vote for, if the State Duma elections were
held this weekend?”