Vladimir Zhirinovsky, rarely one to hide his forceful physical persona, has campaigned to become president of Russia repeatedly. Now aged 65, this is his fifth time at it. A former army colonel, the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) has also been Vice-Chairman of the Duma.
He ran for head of state in 1991 in Russia’s first presidential elections, coming in third, with nearly eight percent of the votes.
The LDPR’s success in legislative elections encouraged him to keep trying. Yet his overtly authoritarian and militarist rhetoric detracted from finding a broader personal appeal in a post-Soviet Russia still barely on its democratic feet.
He made friends with France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and US conservative Pat Buchannan, and openly admired Adolf Hitler.
In spite of his Jewish roots, he is strongly anti-Semitic, and the archetype nationalist with degrees in law and philosophy is rumoured to have been a KGB agent.
Zhirinovsky’s gloves-off approach to politics – literally throwing punches at adversaries on television and in formal assemblies – reverberated well beyond his country’s borders.
The fighting, singing, opposition politician also notoriously vowed to reduce crime by introducing summary executions.
One of his earlier campaign pledges was to distribute free vodka if elected, and he was labelled a ‘clown’ by some in the West.
But derision turned to alarm with his expansionist claims, when in 1993 his party won some 23 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections.
Nationalist topics remain Zhirinovsky’s forte. In his latest presidential election campaign, he has complained about unequal media coverage among the candidates.
While proposing to curb the now-sweeping presidential powers, he also said the head of state should be called ‘tsar’.