Former Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, made the somewhat unexpected suggestion yesterday that Russia hold early presidential elections (currently scheduled for March 2018). This should not have been so surprising as economist Yevgeny Gontmakher had made the same proposal in Vedomosti a few days earlier. But it raises questions about where the suggestion is really coming from, and why it was proposed.
Some people see it as a continuation of a power struggle between the current Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and Kudrin that began in Autumn 2011 (just after Putin announced his return to the presidency). Kudrin is also trying to sell himself as some kind of reformer who can still somehow manage to turn Russia’s economy around (something I doubt is possible at this point). But frankly I think there is more to it than just Kudrin’s personal ambitions.
Kudrin dropped this bombshell at the beginning of Russia’s answer to Davos, so it could be a way to distract people from the fact that Russia’s economy is not really doing that well, despite claims to the contrary.
But more importantly, when things like this are proposed, they’re usually a trial balloon to gauge reactions. It does appear that there will indeed be early parliamentary elections (originally slated for December 2016, they will be moved forward to September 2016). This is not surprising as Russia’s reserves are estimated to be depleted in Autumn 2016. So an early election for both the executive and legislative branches would not be so far-fetched.
Russia’s bloggers had their own suggestions and questions about the proposal.
Kudrin is somewhat misled. Our Vladimir Vladimirovich’s mandate of trust is much longer than Obama’s. And even that of Ramzan Akhmatovich [Kadyrov]
Alfred Kokh wanted to know what exactly was preventing Putin from starting “a new round” of reforms now?
Stanislav Belkovsky echoed the sentiment saying:
Putin already has a mandate for reform. No one is bothering him. Except for himself. As a man with a deeply conservative psyche, he does not want radical reforms, and fears them. And no early elections… will change the fundamentals of his psychology.
On his Facebook page, Vadim Novikov pointed out:
The idea is based on two premises:
1. Putin wants to implement reforms;
2. He lacks popular support
Which one do you think is the most realistic?
If Putin has an approval rating in the 80th percentile, as Levada claims, how is that not a mandate? What makes a vote necessary? This is the question that Kudrin and Gontmakher need to be asked.