Friday, Aug 26, 2016
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Mike Sigov

Putin victory assured, today or next month

Changes are good that Russia's acting president will be able to drop the "acting" from his title today, as voters go to the polls for the first round of presidential balloting.

Despite Russia's unpredictability, there will hardly be any surprises as far as acting President Vladimir Putin's chances are concerned. Russia's future, however, is not as clear.

Even though the former KGB functionary never has been elected to public office, he will likely start his elected career with the country's presidency. That comes despite his dwindling public approval rating - down to 57 per cent from 60 per cent - which is tied to Russia's recent setbacks in the Chechnya War. If he were to fail to win the first round, then he would likely win the runoff next month.

Mr. Putin, 47, owes his popularity in Russia to his vows to restore what many Russians crave most: order and the rule of law.

His support by the Russian media also is so significant that he has outdistanced the rest of the presidential contenders. His closest rivals - Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and liberal leader Grigory Yavlinsky - have only a half and a tenth of his public support, respectively, according to recent opinion polls.

Besides, Mr. Putin has wisely identified public apathy as the only possible danger to his campaign. The fear is that many voters are taking his victory for granted and may skip the voting. A less-than-50 per cent voter turnout would render the election results invalid.

In order to guarantee a sufficient turnout, the media have successfully started rumors that Mr. Putin's enemies may falsify unused ballots. Therefore, voters - including those who don't support any of the candidates - are being encouraged to vote even if it's against all 11 candidates. So Mr. Putin will be elected president without much delay.

For the first time since 1993, when Russia stood on the brink of a civil war, the Russian people run a risk of losing all their newly acquired freedoms, including the right to free speech and the right to private enterprise.

With his broad public support from the nationalists and isolationists, Mr. Putin may soon be able to take all that away, turning the country into a somewhat shrunken version of the Soviet Union, complete with a nuclear threat.

Mr. Putin's war in Chechnya and his crackdown on the press for its coverage of his contradictory statements on domestic and foreign policy raise the question of whether his presidency may cause Russia to revert to a totalitarian state. Many analysts doubt the sincerity of Mr. Putin's election promises to fight corruption, strengthen democracy, and seek partnership with the West in foreign policy.

Concerns abound: They come from notable analysts and politicians of different leanings. Included are former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Yelena Bonner, a prominent human-rights watchdog.

Mr. Gorbachev and Ms. Bonner, who are political opponents, have recently told the media that they see Mr. Putin as someone who is capable of just about anything.

But once Mr. Putin is elected president, we'll see then whether he's a reformer, a reactionary, or a keeper of the status quo.

Mike Sigov, a Russian-born journalist, is a staff writer for The Blade.

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