Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 48

The Central Election Commission (CEC) yesterday registered Vladimir Zhirinovsky as a candidate for the March 26 presidential election. The CEC’s registration of the ultranationalist leader came one day after Russia’s Supreme Court satisfied Zhirinovsky’s appeal of the CEC’s refusal last month to register him. Zhirinovsky was rejected for having failed to declare to the CEC an apartment belonging to his son, and was turned down by the Supreme Court on an initial appeal. Zhirinovsky heads the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and his son, Igor Lebedev, heads the LDPR’s faction in the State Duma. CEC Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said yesterday that approximately 80 percent of the ballots needed for the March 26 vote had already been printed and that it would cost at least 20 million rubles (some US$780,000) to replace them with new ones listing Zhirinovsky as a candidate (Russian agencies, March 7; see the Monitor, February 18).

Last month, after the CEC rejected Zhirinovsky’s candidacy, some observers believed that it would largely benefit the front-runner, Acting President Vladimir Putin, given that most of Zhirinovsky’s supporters would probably decide to vote for Putin instead. Zhirinovsky won 5.7 percent of the vote in the first round of the 1996 presidential elections. Some observers now suggest that standing behind the Supreme Court decision to clear the way for Zhirinovsky’s registration was the Putin team’s fear that Zhirinovsky’s supporters and other voters would see Putin’s victory as a foregone conclusion and that, consequently, turnout on March 26 might dip below 50 percent. This would mean that the contest would have to be annulled and held again four months later. According to this theory, the Kremlin hopes the scandal surrounding Zhirinovsky will galvanize his supporters to go to the polls on March 26 (Kommersant, March 7).

Another consideration in the Supreme Court’s decision effectively to reinstate Zhirinovsky may have been the fact that Putin apparently failed to list a dacha belonging to his wife in his CEC property declaration. There is some question as to whether the Putin dacha needed to be listed, since it is reportedly still under construction. It could, however, have given Zhirinovsky a pretext for legally challenging the election’s results, making the case that he and Putin were treated differently for the same infraction.