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March 9, 2017
Russia's 2018 Presidential Election The vote will be held amid an economic crisis that will plague the country in the coming year.
this time next year, Russia will hold its presidential election. In the
lead-up to these elections, the Russian economy will continue on its
current negative trajectory. At the same time, President Vladimir Putin,
who is not as strong as he outwardly appears, will pursue more security
and institutional measures to consolidate his power. Furthermore, the
interests of Russia’s political opposition parties and the disgruntled
public will increasingly overlap. While the opposition will not
transform into a formidable political force by March 2018, the year
ahead will lay the groundwork for this build-up.
opposition parties operate primarily at the street level and have
little to no national-level organization since the Russian legal system
favors pro-Kremlin parties.
plans to use federal security forces and a new batch of appointed
governors to control and quell unrest that is becoming more frequent in
rural areas and secondary city centers far from Moscow.
The federal government can no longer afford to fund solutions for regions suffering from economic crisis;
instead, the government has adopted a strategy that involves offloading
this responsibility to local governments at the regional and municipal
one year from now, on March 18, 2018, Russia will hold a presidential
election against the backdrop of an economic crisis that will continue
to plague the country in the coming year. In our 2017 annual forecast,
we cited internal developments as the most important issue facing
Russia, but we do not expect the government to be challenged this year.
However, the forecast also states that the Russian countryside will
increasingly show signs of crisis, which will begin to turn public
opinion against the current government. Growing dissatisfaction among
the electorate during a presidential campaign year creates an
opportunity for possible convergence of interests between opposition
forces and dissatisfied voters. Convergence is very unlikely to
transform into large-scale, organized political movements, but rather
will serve as the preliminary groundwork on which future movements can
President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with permanent members of
Russia’s Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2016.
MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
is eligible for re-election but has not yet declared plans to run for
office again. Regardless, he or a hand-picked successor will face little
opposition at the polls in terms of contending political parties. This
is because opposition forces in Russia express themselves primarily
through street actions given that opposition parties do not have power
in numbers that would allow them to be elected to any government office.
political parties operate in a limited capacity because the system
favors pro-Kremlin parties; parties that do not support the government
have little to no chance of gaining representation in the Duma, the
lower house of the Russian parliament. Therefore, the various parties’
performance in Duma elections needs to be viewed in this light. Shortly
after assuming his first presidency in 2005, Putin pursued measures to
reduce the number of parties represented in the Duma. In 2012,
then-President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to backpedal on this move and
passed a law that simplified the registration procedures for political
parties. On paper, the new legislation aimed to open the party system to
alternative interest groups. In practice, this is not the case.
political parties currently hold seats in the Duma, and all of them are
pro-government parties to a degree. United Russia is Putin’s political
party. It holds 343 seats and responds directly to the president,
supporting any Putin-led policy or decree. The Communist Party holds 42
seats, the Liberal Democratic Party has 39, and A Just Russia has 23.
The latter three parties are not seen as official government parties and
therefore are considered to partly represent the opposition. However,
the term “opposition” is used loosely here since the elected officials
of these three parties rarely defy Putin-led initiatives. Votes cast by
officials belonging to these parties reflect a disagreement with United
Russia and bureaucracy while simultaneously staying loyal to the
president and system. They have some mild distance from the regime but
in no way oppose it.
anti-Putin opposition parties have essentially no representation at
formal levels of government. Leading opposition parties the Russian
United Democratic Party, or “Yabloko,” and the People’s Freedom Party,
or “Parnas,” hold no seats in the Duma. They received only 1.9 percent
and 0.7 percent of the vote, respectively, in September 2016 legislative
elections. The minimum threshold for gaining a seat is 5 percent. At
the regional level, only 16 small-party opposition candidates gained
seats across regions that held local parliamentary elections.
Additionally, Moscow has been known to take extreme measures to silence
major opposition figures, discouraging the development of opposition
parties. Leading anti-Putin political activist Boris Nemtsov was
assassinated in early 2015 amid suspicion of potential Kremlin knowledge
or involvement. Furthermore, on Feb. 8 of this year, Russian courts
essentially barred the opposition’s leading presidential candidate,
Alexei Navalny, from participating in the 2018 election by finding him
guilty of defrauding a state company. By law, a person with a criminal
conviction cannot seek elected office in Russia, and it is believed that
the conviction was an unjust attempt to prevent Navalny from running in
a result, Russia’s opposition parties operate almost entirely at the
street level with little to no national-level organization. Politically
oriented street actions have started to take the form of “protest
walks.” These walks consist of dozens of like-minded individuals
discussing economic and political issues while walking through public
spaces. Local media reports that such walks periodically occur in 60-75
cities and towns throughout Russia. In their present form, these walks
are more a sign of solidarity than direct confrontation to the
government. Such an approach helps to protect participants in that it
makes potential arrests more problematic for pro-government security
forces. This is because, in general, arresting passive strollers (rather
than active protesters) runs the risk of sparking further public
outrage against the government, and adding fuel to the fire is not a
risk Moscow can afford to take at this time.
Continued Power Consolidation
Putin still monopolizes power in Russia and enjoys an approval rating of 86 percent. This figure, however, is misleading in that it gives the impression that Putin’s hold on power is more secure than it really is. As noted in our previous Deep Dive on Russia,
Putin has dedicated much of his political capital and resources to
consolidating his power via reforms in various government security
bodies. By rebuilding his inner circle and revamping the power
structure, Putin has demonstrated that he needs to extend his power
network to ensure that his decrees and policies are implemented
correctly and dissenters are crushed.
report also noted that Putin needed to ensure that his United Russia
party won the September 2016 parliamentary elections to guarantee Duma
support for the upcoming presidential election. United Russia, and
therefore Putin, saw a substantial victory at the polls, winning 54
percent of the popular vote. Even so, United Russia saw a 12.5 percent
decline in the number of actual votes cast compared to 2011. In the 2011
election, 60.2 percent of eligible voters participated and United
Russia won 32 million votes, accounting for 49 percent of the popular
vote. However, voter turnout was markedly lower in 2016, at 47.8
percent. While United Russia won 54 percent of the popular vote, the
party brought in only 28 million votes. Therefore, voter support for
United Russia appears to have declined in terms of real numbers.
Russia faces a number of social and economic problems
that have resulted in unrest. For instance, after oil prices dropped in
late 2014, Russia began to experience economic and labor protests. Such
incidents began in 2015 with those most immediately affected by the low
prices; as the impact of oil prices has continued to spread across the
country, protests have escalated and continue today. Wage arrears
(workers owed back pay), which affect both public and private workers,
have become increasingly problematic in oil-dependent and
single-industry economies throughout Russia’s interior and at port
cities. The Center for Social and Labor Rights reported that 54 percent
of observed protests in 2016 were due to wage arrears. Cuts in
government social programs that affect payments to veterans and children
have also led to public protests. Furthermore, unemployment in Russia
has been on the rise since October 2016 reaching 5.6 percent in January.
Other issues, such as general frustration with reduced standards of
living due to economic strife, have also brought people to the streets.
Economic and labor protests are still small, attracting protesters
numbering in the low hundreds at most. These protesters, whose
grievances are economic and social, have yet to align and merge with
political opposition movements, but the growing and shared discontent
with the Putin government is creating space that could facilitate and
expedite such alignment.
As economic and social problems persist, so do Putin’s moves to consolidate power in the security sphere and political arena.
Severe financial constraints prevent him from solving the economic
crisis in advance of the 2018 election, so he seeks to suppress and
control economic unrest through increased security measures. On Feb. 2,
the Russian government published a presidential decree that removed 16
generals from their posts in the Ministry of Civil Defense, Emergencies
and Elimination of Consequences of National Disasters (EMERCOM) and
Interior Ministry, replacing them with officials selected by Putin.
Thirteen of the dismissals were in EMERCOM, the government office
responsible for responding to civil defense, public unrest and protests.
The ministry is divided into eight regions and three special
directorates (Moscow, Crimea and Sevastopol). The dismissals primarily
affected three regions: the Caucasus, the Far East and cities within
Moscow’s reach. Each of these regions has seen reports of increased
unrest due to bankruptcy, wage arrears, cuts in education funding and
decreased funds for veterans programs. The reshuffling of EMERCOM
authorities shows that Moscow deems the threat of unrest as serious and
wants to keep matters from escalating by having trusted officials in
place to carry out government policies.
Putin’s most recent move to consolidate his political power at both regional and national levels is a purge
of Russian governors. This is an important move because of the
significant interplay between governors and members of the national
government, who often work together, depend on each other, and look out
for one another’s interests. Gubernatorial elections were reintroduced
in 2012. But, while the law to reintroduce them was making its way
through the system, over 20 governors were reappointed by the Kremlin,
delaying elections in these locations until 2017. Then, in 2013, Putin
signed a law that permitted regional legislatures to decide between
directly electing governors or having the regional legislature select
and appoint a governor from a candidate short list drawn up by Putin.
governors, in turn, play a role in appointing members to Russia’s
Federation Council, the country’s upper chamber of parliament. The
council consists of two representatives from each of Russia’s 83 federal
entities. One representative is chosen by the regional legislature and
one is selected by the region’s governor. The length of the
representative’s term varies with the federal entity. Built in this
system is a level of reciprocity between governor and president, further
allowing Putin to consolidate power. He is able to ensure a candidate
gains a gubernatorial office; in return, the governor can appoint a
pro-Kremlin member to the council. This relationship becomes even more
important when one considers that the council is the body that approves
presidential decrees for martial law, declares a state of emergency,
deploys troops abroad, oversees the presidential appointment for
attorney general, and decides impeachment verdicts.
late December 2016, the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, an
institution close to the Kremlin, anticipated the 2017 removal of 10
governors whose terms were set to expire later this year, and whose
replacements would be appointed. Those named were governors from
Buryatia, Perm, Ivanovo, Karelia, Novgorod, Pskov, Ryazan, Samara,
Saratov and Sverdlovsk. Since early February, these governors have begun
to resign from their posts. To date, there have been gubernatorial
resignations in Ryazan, Novgorod, Buryatia, Karelia and Perm with new
governors appointed by Putin. In January, the same foundation also
identified other “underperforming” governors whose terms could also be
brought into question. They are from Tomsk, Mordovia, Belgorod,
Novgorod, Pskov, Nizhny Novgorod, Orel and Samara.
ultimate aim is to remove governors who have fallen out of favor in
regions where social unrest is becoming more commonplace and replace
them with people the national government considers to be more capable
because of their abilities to develop relationships with local elites,
their lack of involvement in corruption, their positive track records
with macroeconomic-related work, and their willingness to support
Putin’s policies. Putin has signaled he wants the replacement governors
to be young technocrats. So far, five governors have been replaced. The
newly appointed governors are, on average, 20 years younger than their
predecessors and have few ties to politics. Appointing candidates with
minimal political ties serves two purposes. First, it means that the
governors derive their power entirely from the Kremlin’s consent, which
forces them to be highly accountable to Moscow. Second, the lack of
political ties allows them to forge relationships with more varied
interest groups and local elites.
new governors’ ages and technical backgrounds in economics and
investment are seen as advantages for carrying out ambitious regional
projects that, if successful, would put the economy back on track, quell
unrest, and make the national government appear more favorable to
voters. The Russian government also expects the youthful officials to be
more motivated and ambitious than their predecessors. Additionally,
Moscow plans to draw on their backgrounds and expertise to assist with
discovering and furthering economic and infrastructure challenges at the
regional level. These new governors bring intangible values to the
table such as drive and know-how. Moreover, they will ensure that
pro-Putin members are appointed to the Federal Council and will not
challenge Putin’s power. Even so, they will still face the same
financial constraints and social demands of their predecessors. While
they may be able to alleviate some problems, there is a limit to how far
even the most capable of managers can stretch their budgets and
Transfer of Economic Responsibility
Russian government is in the midst of designing and implementing a
strategy that entails offloading responsibility for addressing regional
economic and social problems to local officials. With national revenue
flow severely compromised by low oil prices and dwindling reserve funds,
Moscow cannot afford to simply prop up regions by transferring funds.
Rather, the government now seeks to mobilize each region’s internal
resources for development and attract as much investment as possible.
Ultimately, the Kremlin wants governors, mayors and citizens to assume
more responsibility for the socioeconomic development of their regions
because the federal government can no longer carry the economic burden.
part of this offloading process, the government has renewed its focus
on programs to help develop single-industry towns. In 2009, Putin
ordered the creation of a special group to study the status of Russia’s
single-industry towns after the 2008 economic crisis. This group still
exists today and has seen an uptick in its workload over the last two
years. Russia currently has 319 single-industry towns, with 100
classified as being in the “red zone.” Towns in red zones face the
country’s stiffest economic challenges and receive a special monitoring
mission led by a government-appointed official whose job is to assess
the economic status and external markets for export-oriented enterprises
and possibly convert the town’s output for domestic consumption.
Typically, the official also makes recommendations about how to improve
the town’s economic situation.
strategy calls for single-industry towns to diversify their economies
in order to stabilize their economic condition. One major means to this
end is establishing and developing small and medium-sized businesses.
Moscow is also trying to motivate local citizens to carry out
initiatives that help deal with economic problems at the municipal
level. The funding for these projects is minimal and serves as yet
another example of how funneling federal spending to the regions is no
longer a viable option. For instance, subsidies for the Single-Industry
Towns Fund will have an approximate budget of only $258 million for
2017-2019. This is a miniscule amount compared to the approved 2017
budget of $221.4 billion. Furthermore, the fund’s financial support in
2015-2016 benefited only 17 of the country’s 319 single-industry towns.
There is simply not enough funding to consider this program successful
or viable for transforming local economies.
economic development burdens to the local level poses a risk to the
federal government, once again illustrating that it is not as strong as
it would like to appear. To some extent, the move entails distributing
power rather than reining it in. However, the risk must be taken since
Moscow simply does not have the funds to solve the economic problems
that plague the federation. However, Russia has mitigated this risk by
appointing governors with strong economic and investment backgrounds.
Furthermore, the nature of Russian political culture will frame Putin in
a positive light throughout the shift, further reducing risk.
Historically, people hold local authorities and elites responsible for
economic and social problems and are therefore likely to blame these
local officials rather than Putin and the national government. In recent
months, as people have observed increased economic hardships in their
daily lives, those local figures have been seen as failing. Instead,
people have begun to look toward Russia’s central political figure,
Putin, to solve their problems. Putin’s leadership image resembles that
of a czar in that he is both feared and revered. Propaganda plays on
this image and creates a scenario where much of the public fears Putin
but also views him as the only figure capable of leading them through
upcoming 2018 election will offer a small starting point for opposition
forces and a disgruntled electorate to conceive and potentially build a
unified front. However, this front will not be able to transform itself
into a large-scale, organized political movement in time for the
election. The Russian population is no stranger to enduring economic
hardships. It is also accustomed to seeing arrests and large fines as
consequences for public protest against the government. This creates a
certain level of reluctance to actively lash out against the government –
a reluctance that requires severe hardships and desperation to be
overcome. Although there will be protests and uprisings in the coming
year, they will be too small to reach a critical mass; this is due, in
part, to the varying levels and duration of hardship experienced by the
Russian people. The building blocks for an organized and sizable Russian
opposition force are currently taking shape. However, the assembly
process has yet to start and, like most major construction projects,
will take a long time to be c
ROLAND SAN JUAN was a researcher, management consultant, inventor, a part time radio broadcaster and a publishing director. He died last November 25, 2008 after suffering a stroke. His staff will continue his unfinished work to inform the world of the untold truths. Please read Erick San Juan's articles at: ericksanjuan.blogspot.com This blog is dedicated to the late Max Soliven, a FILIPINO PATRIOT.
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