Putin's popularity within Russia aside, there is the simple fact that in two years time, he will be stepping aside and a new candidate will elected president of the Russian Federation. In some respects, it is a rather unprecedented event in Russia political history - a popular president resigning at the end of his term and an election to be held with no incumbent. For it to occur in this fashion, would go a long way towards proving to the world that Russia is a democracy with freely elected leaders. Perhaps Russians have no doubt of this, but old cold-war rhetoric flows freely in the West regarding Putin's so-called "dictatorship of law" (диктатура закона).
Andrei Kolesnikov (Андрей Колесников) of RIA Novosti has an opinion column from last week that discusses the likely candidates and where they stand now. He cites four meaningful candidates for the presidency at this time:
- Dmitri Medvedev (Дмитрий Медведев)
- Vladimir Zhirinovski (Владимир Жириновский)
- Gennadi Zyuganov (Геннадий Зюганов)
- Sergei Ivanov (Сергей Иванов)
According to Kolesnikov, if the elections were held tomorrow without Putin as a candidate, each candidate would receive about 22% to 16% of the popular vote (based on Levada Center polls). I would expect that Zhirinovski and Zyuganov are unelectable candidates unless there is some drastic change in the Russian political climates. Zhirinovski retains some degree of popularity, while also being largely an outrageous comic figure in Russian politics. When I mention Zhirinovski to Katja, for example, she will typically roll her eyes and say "oh what did he say/do now?"
Zyuganov, being the head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is mostly a fringe candidate with little appeal to mainstream Russians. Ivanov seems to be a rather "old-school" Soviet in his thinking. Examples would included his campaign to rename Volgograd to Stalingrad, or his reported cover-ups in the Andrei Sychov case. Despite his supposed closeness to Putin, his popularity is reportedly low - even among the generals that he commands.
This leaves us with the most popular figure from the Levada Center poll and the candidate that many point to as Putin's likely successor - Dmitri Medvedev. The first deputy Prime Minister and Gazprom board member would seem to embody much of the qualities of the new Russian Federation. He is young, educated, well-spoken and even occasionally brash (which I think doesn't hurt in Russian politics).
Much of this will develop more clearly in the coming year, as election campaigns begin to form. Putin is likely to nominate someone as the successor for president as well. Medvedev has been often cited as the possible heir apparent, and like considering candidates for the next Pope, there has been much discussion of this topic already in other forums and news articles. Considering the possible candidates, Medvedev would seem to offer the smoothest transition within the government of the Russian Federation. Considering the other possible candidates and directions the Russian government could take, his candidacy would seem to ensure stability for the still young Federation.
9/28 - Additional article from Regnum states that the CEC didn't entirely reject a presidential 3rd term, only the wording of the particle referendum they were to review:
Experts of Russia’s Central Election Commission have decided on impossibility of holding a referendum on the third presidential term only in the wording proposed by the initiative group from South Ossetia: “Do you agree that one and the same person cannot occupy the post of the Russian president for more than two terms?”. The Central Election Commission examined the initiative and found out that some articles in the Constitution repeat the sentence proposed to the referendum, but it contradicts with some other articles. Thus, the constitution as the supreme law does not to be confirmed. So, a formal occasion was used for rejection of the initiative, complexity of wording.
A referendum on changing constitutional norms is theoretically possible, however, bad wording let down the initiators of such a referendum from South Ossetia, Central Election Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov has provided such explanation on the CEC decision, Vesti.ru reports. Today’s resolution of the Central Election Commission will be sent to Russia’s regions, where it will be examined and, possibly, new referendum initiatives will appear. Veshnyakov adds that “it is theoretically possible in other wording,” although “some experts have another point of view: it is inadmissible to put for referendum constitutional amendments.”