Friday, February 29, 2008

A Breakdown of Russia's Presidential Candidates

With Russia's presidential elections this Sunday, I've been getting a lot of questions about who is running, both about current President Valdimir Putin's personal choice and heir presumptive Dimitri Medvedev, but also the other people running against him. Now seeing as Barak Obama doesn't know Medvedev's name at all, preferring instead to call him "the successor," and Hillary Clinton can't pronounce it, I'm not that surprised that others don't know that much about them, and I hope that the following helps.

Dimiri Anatolyevich Medvedev: The crown prince, heir apparent, half of the Kremlin dream team, what ever you want to call him, he is the expected winner of Sunday's elections. In December 2007 President Putin announced that Medvedev was his chosen successor, which, given Putin's own popularity and dominance of the political process, basically means that Medvedev will be president when Putin's second term runs out. The two campaign together, occasionally dress alike, and Medvedev has announced that he will ask Putin to be prime minister if he wins. Medvedev's appointment was a bit of a surprise to many, who expected Prime Minister Vitkor Zubkov, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradov or one several other candidates. Not everyone thought he didn't have a chance, however; his campaign website went online this January, but it was registered by "Private Citizen" in 2005, months before any other potential candidates' domain.

Medvedev's own career looked like it would end in the private sector. He knew Putin from when the current President was in St. Petersburg, working for then-mayor Anatoly Sobchak. In November 1999, he came along with many other St. Petersburg politicians brought to Moscow right before Putin became president . In December of that year, when Yeltsin resigned and made Putin acting president, Medvedev became deputy head of the presidential staff. During the 2000 elections a few months later Medvedev was the head of Putin's presidential election campaign. He then left politics (officially, anyway), to chair or deputy chair the board of directors at Gazprom, Russia's largest, wealthiest, most influential company (which if often used as a tool of domestic and foreign policy) from 2001 until 2003. In 2003, he returned to official politics and became Putin's chief of staff. In November 2005 Putin appointed him first deputy prime minister, first deputy chairman of the Council for Implementation of the Priority National Projects and chairman of the Council's Presidium. He remained in charge of Gazprom's board, although he gave in up in order to become President.

Gennady Andreyvich Zhuganov: Perennial Communist Candidate. Zhuganov leads the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and has been running for president since he ran against former president Boris Yeltsin in 1996 (I voted in those elections, in place of a Russian friend's mother, but, as requested by the person's whose place I was using, I voted for Yeltsin). He promises enhanced social services and higher pensions and salaries, as well as an end to corruption. He has support across all age groups, but older people tend to make up the bulk of it.

Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky: are immune. He also gained attention with some of his crazier pronouncements, like his suggestion that depopulation can be solved by polygamy, or when he gave President Putin a photo of himself for the The leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party, he, and it, are neither liberal nor democratic. They are populist, however, and were famous during the 1990s for having the strongest party discipline of any party, less because of any ideological purity and more because of how corruptible they were. They were also famous during that time for giving criminal spaces as MPs (the party chooses the MPs, and the names provided on the party lists during elections are just campaign promises) to help them avoid prosecution, as MPs are immune from prosecution. He is also famous for giving President Putin a photo of himself for the latter's 50th birthday (a time of general gift giving form all over the Former Soviet Union, including wines from Moldova, horses from Turkmenistan, and an exact copy of the Cap of Monomakh, the fur, gold and gems-encrusted crown of the tsars). He is generally supported either by people looking for a demagogue, or by those voting in protest to the other options, such as happened after Yeltsin and the parliament had a violent showdown over who controlled what powers in 1993, when the LDPR gained its highest percentage of the vote.

Andrey Vladimirovich Bogdanov: The non-candidate. Officially head of the Democratic Party of Russia, a party which is often accused of existing only to give elections the appearance of being truly contested. Bogdanov is the same; after Kasyanov, a more credible (although in reality small) threat, was disqualified, Bogdanov got into the race. His platform is application to the European Union and joining NATO, and then putting NATO bases on Russian territory. Officially this is to protect against China, but it is really to ensure that no one will vote for him. Most Russians don't trust either institutions, and would view NATO basses in Russia as proof that the US DID want to control Russia, and now is. I haven't seen him campaigning either.

And a few people who aren't running, but who merit mention anyway:

Mikhail Mikhailovich Kasyanov: group, he worked for Putin when the latter Originally part of the Yelstinbecame president. He served a Prime Minister in that administration until Putin dismissed him and the rest of his cabinet in 2004. More recently, he was charged with corruption and accused the state of the same, as well as of authoritarian and illegal practices to maintain power. He would probably be a lot more popular in Russia if he hadn't aligned himself with the Other Russia, a political group associated with Gary Kasparov, US neocons and disgraced oligarchs. He doesn't belong to Other Russia any more. Kasyanov leads the People's Democratic Republic of Russia. He also hoped to lead the Russian Federation, but his candidacy was denied on the grounds that 13 percent of the two million signatures on the petitions required to get on the ballot were forged. He appealed this decision, but was rejected. Kasyanov accused Putin of orchestrating his disqualification to ensure that Medvedev had no real opposition, and is boycotting the election.

Garry Karparov: Famous chess champion, beloved in the West as a defender of freedom, mistrusted in Russia for his willingness to accept parties such as the National Bolshevik (read Russian neofascists) and the Vanguard of Red Youth (ultra-left, with a Kashnikov and a Communist star on the flag). He is also mistrusted because he as a board member of the US neo-con Center for Security Policy and has given speeches at the equally neo-con Hoover Institute. From my US-centric perspective, it looks like Kasparov's politics are scary and objectionable. To many Russians' eyes, this looks like he is in Cheney's pocket. He wanted to run for president, and expressed his plan to do so, but in order to do so, his party is required to meet, and vote for him as their candidate. Oddly enough, every single venue large enough for his party to meet was unavailable, and he was therefore unable to run. Funny that. The following video is one targeting Kasparov for his connections to the US neo-conservative political movement. Its mostly wordless, but the title and end phrases say "it would have been better had he stuck to chess." This phrase is a lot shorter in Russian because the Russian language is cool like that.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin: The President. Dominates politics. No real opposition, crushes any that could become such. Many of the accusations of authoritarianism, corruption and fixing the elections are true. He has also stabilized Russia, increased Russian power abroad and doubled incomes across the country during his tenure. He chose Medvedev as his successor, and campaigns heavily for him. He has also declared his willingness to serve as Prime Minister for as long as the country needs him after Medvedev becomes President. He's also a bit of a babe, when he wants to be. This picture came from his office's website.

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