Archive for March, 2008

Medvedev Wins Russian Election

March 6, 2008

On Sunday, Dmitri Medvedev won a predictable landslide victory over his election opponents to become Russian’s next president.  He won 70 percent of the vote compared with 18 percent for Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zyuganov and 9 percent for Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.  Medvedev is popular President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor.  Putin commands a 70 percent approval rating (that statistic sounds less impressive in light of the fact that Joseph Stalin, one of the most brutal dictators in history who is responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians, currently has a 37 percent approval rating in Russia) and there was little doubt that his protégé would win.  The deck was stacked against the other candidates.  The Kremlin controls Russian media and insured that Medvedev got a lot of positive coverage, whereas his opponents got very little publicity.  Workers were pressured by their bosses to get absentee ballots and vote for him at their workplace where their voting could be observed, according to Golos, a Russian watchdog group.   Western election observers, who claimed the process was unfair, refused to monitor the elections because too many restrictions were placed on them by the Russian government. 


Although Putin will leave office later this week, he will immediately take the post of prime minister, which some analysts say is an indication that he will remain the most powerful political figure in Russia. 


Political commentator Andrei Piontkovsky said that Medvedev has been “conditioned to obey Mr. Putin.” 


Medvedev acknowledged his predecessor’s influence on the night of his election victory when he stated “We will be able to maintain the course suggested by President Putin.”


However, signs of a possible split emerged during a press conference when Medvedev pointed out that “Foreign policy, according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, is determined by the president.” 


It will be interesting to see if a divergence of views develops between the two leaders and how such disputes would be resolved. 


Aleksei Makarkin, an analyst at a Moscow think tank, said “There is much talk about the possibility of big contradictions between the two, but I don’t think there will be any serious ones.”  But then he warned that “If there is a confrontation it could blow up the regime.”


Clearly, a constitutional crisis could occur in Russia and create political instability there, and it is unclear how that turmoil would affect the rest of the world.  It is hard to imagine that it would be a positive development.