Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 59

With just four days left before Russia’s presidential election, a majority of Russia’s major polling agencies are predicting that Acting President Vladimir Putin will win narrowly in a first round vote. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent on March 26, a run-off election will be held on April 16.

In a poll carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation on March 16, 54 percent of the respondents said that they planned to vote for Putin. For its part, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found in a poll taken March 17-20 that 53 percent of those respondents plan to vote for Putin. VTsIOM predicted today that Putin would receive 53-55 percent of the vote in this Sunday’s election. In a poll taken March 18-19 by ROMIR polling agency, which is part of Gallup International, 48.4 percent of the respondents said they will vote for the acting president. Nevertheless, ROMIR is predicting that Putin will win 57 percent of the vote. Finally, the Agency for Regional Political Research (APRI), found that 48.4 percent of respondents polled March 17-19 will vote for Putin. According to Russia’s election law, today is the last day before the election that poll results can be published.

Despite the predictions that Putin will win in a first round, the Kremlin is apparently less than confident about such an outcome–or, at any rate, is trying to give the impression that it is less than confident. An anonymous Kremlin official was quoted today as saying that internal polls show Putin’s support hovering around 48 percent. However, Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center, noted that the Kremlin has a stake in raising doubts over the prospects for a first-round victory–in order to ensure that potential Putin voters are motivated to go to the polls. Petrov also predicted that the regional elites “will do their utmost” to ensure that Putin wins in a first round, which could give Putin a vote tally 10 points higher than those indicated in the opinion polls (Vedemosti, March 23; Russian agencies, March 22-23).

Forty of Russia’s eighty-nine governors will be up for re-election this year, and the Kremlin can use–and undoubtedly is using–both carrots and sticks to ensure that they hop aboard the Putin bandwagon. The incentives could include granting or withdrawing credits and other financial privileges, and “kompromat” (compromising materials) which the special services have gathered on the regional leaders. This might explain why the governors have been racing to back Putin. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev and Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov got on board with Putin earlier this year after the federal government said it would re-examine laws giving both republics the right to directly export oil abroad. Even Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, who is also a presidential candidate, said on March 20 that Putin is the candidate “most prepared for the presidency, both practically and economically” Tuleev promised to support Putin if there is a second round (Moscow Times, March 21).

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, meanwhile, has not officially backed Putin, but last week referred to his “partnership” with the Kremlin (see the Monitor, March 16). Luzhkov, who is scheduled to meet with Putin today, said he would share his ideas for “strengthening the vertical of state power” with the acting president (Russian agencies, March 23). Luzhkov predicted this week that Putin will win in a first round, with 52-55 percent of the vote (Argumenty i Fakty, No. 12, March 2000). Putin, who this week toured various Russian regions, today called “strengthening Russian statehood” in relations between the federal center and the regions a top priority. Among Putin’s stops this week were Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and Putin said today that that Presidents Shaimiev and Rakhimov had declared themselves ready to “function on the basis of unified Russian legislation” (Russian agencies, March 23).