“Power and Property to the People! On 4 March, vote for Zyuganov!”
Experts said that the presidential election campaign due to finish on 2 March has become one of the most vigorous and interesting of the last decade. In their opinion, Putin made an all-out effort, whilst his opponents put up a real fight, supplementing their usual arsenals with tougher rhetoric and high quality video commercials. They utilised not only PR experts but also psychologists in their campaigns. The Russian presidential election will take place on 4 March. The following candidates are vying for the presidential chair, for a six-year term:
- current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
- KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov
- Head of the LDPR Vladimir Zhirinovsky
- Head of A Just Russia (SR) Sergei Mironov
- Independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov
Political scientist Vladimir Slatinov said, “This campaign has obviously been much more interesting than previous ones. In 2004, nobody opposed Putin. Let’s be honest about it… he didn’t have a serious contender. Unlike previous years, this time, we’ve actually seen a real campaign”. He emphasised that, this time around, Putin’s opponents really fought a hard campaign.
Putin’s Three Pillars
Political analysts praised Putin’s election campaign, noting a substantial change in his style of conduct compared to 2004. Political scientist Nikolai Zlobin said, “[Putin’s] making an all-out effort in the election campaign for the first time, working in a Western style, working really hard. He’s developed a certain Western style, and we should give him credit for this. I didn’t expect him to work so flat-out. [Putin] changed the style of his election campaign and started conducting it personally, not delegating to anyone”. Western experts agree that, during this campaign, Putin’s come across as quite a different leader than he usually does in his meetings with officials and opted for an informal style of communicating with his audience, as they do in Europe and the United States. They noted that the days of sullen Russians monotonously reading out texts written in advance are long gone.
Yevgeni Minchenko, Director of the International Institute for Political Analysis, said that Putin’s weekly articles on his programme helped him stay in the public spotlight, saying, “Putin’s articles came out at the beginning of every week, helping him command the agenda”. Slatinov noted that the prime minister’s campaign relied on three pillars, noting, “The first pillar is spoon-feeding the paternalistic strata and making them ever more lavish promises. The second is the rhetoric of intimidating people with the chaos and instability of the 1990s, and the third is his, I believe, quite skilful use of a lack of a viable alternative. There’s no doubt, this campaign was a success… he’s pulled off playing the role of the father of the nation who listens to everyone and makes promises to one and all”. He emphasised that the campaign was “designed to show that there are sparring partners engaged in noisy debates and, then, there’s the father of the nation who cares about everyone, hears everyone, and is ready to do even more”.
Political commentators believe Putin made a good choice in his election agents, many of whom are authorities in their fields. Although this provoked extensive negative coverage in social networks and blogs, Putin managed to score points with it, thereby resolving one of the main problems that emerged during the protests in the wake of the December elections. Minchenko commented, “There’s a stereotype that all celebrities are opposed to the government. When the public saw Putin’s election agents and videos coming out in support of him, it turned out many people working in culture and the arts were actually on his side”.
Experts believed that the debates were the weak point of his campaign. They noted that the election agents who acted on Putin’s behalf during verbal duels couldn’t compare with the “usual crowd” and looked quite unconvincing. At the same time, they thought that Putin never intended the debates to play a serious role in his campaign. Slatinov noted that people who represented Putin at the debates found it hard to compete with seasoned politicians. He observed, “Take Narochnitskaya [political scientist Natalia Narochnitskaya], she’s a smart person, but it was obviously a mistake on her part to oppose Zhirinovsky because politically they’re light years apart”. Zlobin believed that Putin needed a “strong intellectual sparring partner” to point out the most acute and pressing issues for him.
The Outrageous Zhirinovsky
Expert opinions on Zhirinovsky’s campaign varied. Slatinov called it one of the most boisterous. He noted that Zhirinovsky acted in his usual scandalous manner and stuck to his tough rhetoric in criticising the current government. However, Minchenko didn’t see anything new in this. He said, “There’s no point in performing the same trick twice. Zhirinovsky was his usual self… aggressive and, at times, downright rude. I think he turned out to be Putin’s main opponent in this campaign. At least, he lashed out at the current government as nobody else did. He made the most accusations, and these accusations were the most harsh and biting”. He noted that Zhirinovsky “described the mechanism of fraud in minute detail and raised the issue of the role of administrating the elections”. His campaign videos, including the one with the donkey, which provoked widespread discussion, “were in the same scandalous vein. Although his age is showing, his campaign was very bright. Of course, he made the most of his talents as a speaker and his customary image”. He suggested that this might be Zhirinovsky’s last presidential campaign and that his main purpose was to show that “over the next five years his party will be a serious political force to be reckoned with”.
According to Minchenko, Zhirinovsky conducted the campaign in his traditional style and didn’t make any new moves, saying, “Zhirinovsky reminds me of old Russian movies like The Straw Hat, The Carnival Night, or The Irony of Fate… it seems we know everything by heart and won’t see anything new, but we’ve gotten used to watching them… just like we feel we have to watch The Irony of Fate again every New Year’s Eve, we think that we have to take another look at Zhirinovsky during the election campaign”. Minchenko said that his slogans, “Vote for Zhirinovsky, and life will be better”, or, “Vote for Zhirinovsky, or life will be worse”, are similar to those that accompanied Boris Yeltsin’s campaign in 1996… “Vote or lose” and “Vote and win”.
Zyuganov Turns Pink… Mironov Shows Restraint
Slatinov said, “Zyuganov conducted an impressive campaign. I liked his promotional videos… they were excellent and convincing. They showed Zyuganov as a respectable statesman”. He observed that the Communist leader changed his rhetoric during this election campaign, “It was more moderate, not so hard-line left-wing. Zyuganov turned ‘pink’. After all, the KPRF’s increasingly moving toward the centre. Zyuganov understands that the only way that he can get additional votes isn’t from his core constituency, but from other sections of society that are dissatisfied with the government. These are people who are less communist in their views and more middle-of-the-road”. At the same time, there was some inertia in Zyuganov’s campaign because he’s been in politics for too long and “couldn’t avoid making some repetitions”. Minchenko thought that Zyuganov was very traditional during the debates and that his duels with opponents were some of the dullest.
Experts called Mironov’s campaign weak. They said it was even less convincing than his party’s campaign during the elections for the Gosduma. They believed that Mironov failed in his bid to become a serious centre-left opponent to the current government. Slatinov noted, “It’s clear that something was holding Mironov back. Although he seemed to criticise the government, there was something that prevented him from going all-out”. Minchenko believed that Mironov was relying primarily on his low disapproval ratings and the hope that undecided voters would support the least-repulsive candidate. He summed it up by saying, “Mironov’s campaign was very conservative”.
Prokhorov… A Fresh Face
Experts were generally positive about Prokhorov’s campaign although they had earlier criticised it for its weak start… he didn’t have a meaningful agenda and was not open enough with his potential constituents. Experts said that Prokhorov, who came to politics less than a year ago and had some negative experience in party-building with the Right Cause Party (PD), still had one indisputable advantage… he presented a fresh face. Slatinov said, “He’s the only new man out of the five, and this gives him an advantage… not just among the middle-class, but amongst all those who’re tired of the same old players”. He suggested that the primary aim of Prokhorov’s sharp criticism of opposition leaders in the Gosduma, whom Prokhorov repeatedly called “Duma seniors” and accused of having ties with the Kremlin, was to emphasise that he’s a new man, and to win the votes of a tired electorate.
Minchenko agreed with assessment, saying, “Debates with Prokhorov had the highest ratings because all the others are so familiar. He’s a new man and people watched him with interest”. Slatinov pointed up that the billionaire proclaimed himself as “the chief anti-Putin” opponent, but “didn’t dare criticise the current government too much. Prokhorov was obviously trying to curry favour with voters from the angry middle-class. I think he looked quite convincing to the middle-class. However, he was more eager to present himself and his programme than to oppose the government”. In Minchenko’s opinion, Prokhorov’s campaign commercials were weak and his campaign lacked a creative approach. At the same time, he noted Prokhorov’s progress since the start of his political activities, noting, “Prokhorov made progress. It’s obvious that his psychologists and specialists have done a good job”.
2 March 2012