MOSCOW, Russia – In March 2018, Russians will be voting in a presidential election that will determine who will be the Kremlin’ main resident for the next six years. At the moment, the Russian political landscape seems more interesting than originally expected.
President Vladimir Putin, eligible to seek re-election for a second consecutive term, has not yet confirmed his candidacy.
“Not only have I not decided yet who I will stand against, I have not decided whether I will run at all,” Mr. Putin said in October.
Journalists are closely monitoring every public speech the Russian president delivers, waiting for his big announcement – even though according to some reports, he might confirm his candidacy only at the end of December, during the traditional New Year address.
Russians have not been holding their breath for the elections, as Mr. Putin is believed to have the best chances to win since there is no credible opposition candidate currently running for the presidency.
In October, a Levada Center survey conducted in 137 towns and cities across 48 Russian regions showed that more than 50 percent of Russians were ready to give their votes to Mr. Putin. At the same time, only 2 percent of 1,600 people polled would vote for opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and fewer than 1 percent would support Russian socialite Ksenia Sobchak.
On October 18, Ms. Sobchak, daughter of the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak, announced her decision to run in the 2018 election. She made the statement during a special episode of her “Sobchak Live” show on the opposition-leaning TV Rain news channel.
A week after the announcement, Ms. Sobchak presented her political program addressing the critics who accused her of being a part of a Kremlin plot to split the opposition.
A survey, carried out by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center, showed an increase in public mistrust toward Ms. Sobchak from 0.2 percent in mid-October to 7 percent in November.
At the same time, another poll conducted by the same center revealed that almost every Russian citizen knows who Ms. Sobchak is, and more than half of them believe her presidential bid is merely a publicity stunt.
Mikhail Fishman, former editor-in-chief of The Moscow Times and an anchorman at TV Rain, said Ms. Sobchak’s candidacy is the creation of the Kremlin, even if it was her own desire to run.
“At the moment, it is clear that the Kremlin wants to use her campaign to revitalize what was seen as an extremely boring, pointless, undramatic and demobilizing election with a very clear outcome,” Mr. Fishman told The Globe Post.
A foreign policy expert from a Moscow think tank, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Globe Post there was an ongoing debate whether Ms. Sobchak is “a spoiler” or if her participation would be useful in terms of promoting an alternative agenda, even despite the fact that she would not win.
“If she succeeds in getting registered, she will score the same percent of votes as [Russian billionaire Mikhail] Prokhorov did in 2012,” he concluded.
In 2012, Mr. Prokhorov gained 8 percent of votes, as Mr. Putin secured 63.6 percent.
In the past several weeks, new candidates decided to enter the Russian presidential pool.
On October 30, another Russian journalist and TV host Yekaterina Gordon posted a video on Youtube announcing her plans to run for office. Ms. Gordon said she would stand up for the rights of women and children. She also criticized Ms. Sobchak, stating that unlike her, she was “not a person of glamour.”
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I come from a working-class family,” she said.
Rakhman Yansukov, the president of the Avanti Association of Entrepreneurs for the Development of Patriotic Business, a pro-government organization, has become yet another person who wants to compete for the seat in the Kremlin.
Earlier this month, he declared his intention to run for president to prove to the main opposition figure, Mr. Navalny, that Russia’s youth supports President Putin.
Mr. Navalny was barred from running in the next year elections due to a prior conviction.
“[I am against] passing off the fight against officials and commercial entities as work to eradicate corruption, and unauthorized protests as the will of citizens and democratic freedoms,” Mr. Yansukov said, as quoted by The Moscow Times.
One of the last surprising plans for a presidential bid was revealed on November 3. Moscow entrepreneur and blogger Samson Sholademi wrote on his Facebook page that he would present himself as a self-nominated candidate. Mr. Sholademi will have to register a voter group of at least 500 people with the Central Election Commission of Russia. He will also need to collect 300,000 signatures to be registered as a candidate.
In addition, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko” Grigory Yavlinsky, Communists of Russia leader Maxim Suraikin, and political expert and head of the Social Technologies Center Andrei Bogdanov have also shared their plans to secure nominations.
Even though it is still not clear how many of the candidates will actually be able to participate in the election, “generally speaking, they have no real chance of being elected,” the foreign policy expert said.
Mr. Fishman thinks that only Ms. Sobchak has a chance to get the registration and make it to the ballot.
“With all the same candidates for decades now, at the start, it looked like a flashback to Brezhnev’s era – now Sobchak, young and cheerful, is turning it into a reality show,” he said. “Yet, her campaign poses a certain risk to the Kremlin, because with her candidacy the Kremlin is allowing suppressed liberal agenda – even in its surrogate form, – to get out of its current ghetto.”