In November, Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev agreed officially to switch roles. Their election machinery was already warm. Critics asked, ‘what sort of election can Russians expect?’ Medvedev headed the ruling party’s list for the legislatives; Putin will run in the March presidentials. The two men are justifiably confident in their United Russia party. They built it.
The electoral system favours their party. To have any representatives in the Duma, the starting line for contender parties is a 7% share of the vote. But there are other reasons United Russia can camp on its convictions.
Analyst Andrei Kortunov described its image as largely unassailable: “Most people see the United Russia Party as a ruling body, a party of officials, a party of bureaucrats… as some kind of machine which allows the implementation of decisions made somewhere else.”
The independent Levada Center says 53% of Russians think the election results are determined by the authorities. In the industrial region of Tula, south of Moscow, United Russia have been the top players for a decade. The voters here are average Russians. In 2007, 60 percent voted United Russia. With layoffs and living standards down, popularity slipped.
Vladimir Gruzdev, a supermarket magnate appointed Tula governor last August, threw himself into campaigning. He said: “We shouldn’t be shy. I have been a member of the United Russia party from the moment it was founded. I have never been a member of any other party. I shouldn’t be ashamed of the work I have done.”
This year, ordinary Russians’ purchasing power fell for the first time since 2008, and inflation is around seven percent. The economic boom enriched by oil sales graced only an elite relative few.
Analyst Nikolai Petrov said the system is growing weaker: “What we see now is a remainder of the very primitive political system which was designed by Putin at a time Russia enjoyed huge financial wealth. It was kept due to the populist politics of the government, which can not be continued for long.”
The Federation’s presidential elections to be held in March will test Putin’s political punch, and whether his star shines as brightly as during his first two terms as state leader.