Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Dilemma of Voting Results

Today are the presidential elections here in Moscow, and although everyone expects Dimitri Medvedev to win, the big question is at what percentage. There is a major push to get people to vote; advertising is everywhere, including on my metro fare card:

Translation: March 2 - Presidential Election of the Russian Federation

This effort is not just from above; governors, and in the case of Moscow, Mayor Luzhkov, are falling over themselves to get high turnout in order to show support for President Putin (and soon to be Prime Minister) and future President (and current Deputy Prime Minister) Medvedev. This is because high voter turnout numbers are necessary to provide legitimacy to the elections. It was always obvious than whomever Putin chose would be the next president (just as he became president after Yeltsin chose him), and if the elections are to appear legitimate, then a really high percentage of the electorate must vote. That way, when Medvedev wins, he can say that it really was the will of the people, despite the circumstances of his candidacy. If 80% of the country votes, and he wins 70% of the votes, then he has a case. If only 40% votes, then even 80% of that 40% won't be enough to show that he has a true mandate.

At the same time, he doesn't want too much of the actual vote. Putin got almost exactly 70% of the vote during his last election; to exceed that number would embarass his patron (and Prime Minister), and Medvedev has been very cautious not to do that. Even in Medvedev's own campaign billboards (some of which he shares with his patron) Putin stand a little forward.

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