Can Vladimir Putin lose an election?

    Putin has announced that he will contest the 2018 presidential election. In Russia today, Putin is in the house, and the house always wins.

    Russia is a country built heavily on symbols and appearances, rather than enduring military success. It has become a kind of mythical “empire”– that projects a powerful image abroad.

    The belief among people that the old “Rus Slav” spirit will spread across the world shows the Russian desire to become “Great Again.” Sound familiar?

    Vladimir Putin is widely viewed at home as the man who curbed the excesses of Boris Yeltsin’s post-Soviet Russia, an era that many believe led to the destruction of the country’s economy, and reputation. 

    He is the first leader in decades that has been willing stand up to the West with his Slavophil spirit, promoting “Russian traditional values” and the Orthodox Church. Putin’s Russia seeks to create chaos wherever possible, and then looks to take advantage of that chaos.

    After all, the Putin regime bombs Syria, has seized Crimea, killed dozens of civilians in Aleppo, and has formed good relations with Asian countries in an effort to counterbalance US global influence.

    Trump’s gushing praise of Putin, that led to a love affair of sorts between the two leaders, is a major victory for the Russian administration. Putin makes audacious declarations in the language of defence, warfare, hatred and strife. He puts the Orthodox Church, the armed forces and its missiles, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation or FSB, and the imperial and Soviet history front and centre. Russia’s institutional bodies and the direction they are headed in is potentially dangerous.

    Putin himself is the only effective institution in Russia over the last two decades that controls all state organs. People proclaim him as the “Tsar” both domestically and globally. Putin is more than a man, he has become “Brand Russia.”

    In March, Russians will go to the polls to elect a president. Putin is now the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin, who led the Soviet Union for almost three decades between 1924 and 1953. The Russian constitution allows Putin to run again in the 2018 presidential elections. For months, he kept his decision hidden, “I have not decided whether I will run at all,” Putin said at the beginning of October.

    Putin then stated in July 2017, that he had still not decided whether he would like to “step down” from the post of president; then in August he said he would “think about running”; and  in October, responding to a question regarding the elections at Russian Energy Week 2017, he said he “hadn’t yet decided whether to run for another term.” 

    But now, Putin has confirmed the rumour that he would run for re-election. He announced this at a car factory near the Volga river, which is a symbol of Russian industrial might.

    This June, Russia’s electoral body announced that Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, was barred from standing in next year’s elections. The Central Electoral Commission said Navalny was “not eligible to stand for office” because he was currently serving a five-year ban for embezzlement. Navalny’s sensational disclosures of high-level government corruption have generated both national and international interest on YouTube and other social media platforms.

    One of the more intriguing candidates isn’t your standard politician. Ksenia Sobchak is a 35- year-old socialite with over five million Instagram followers. The Russian TV personality has announced that she plans to run in next year’s election, offering liberal voters – who are troubled by Putin’s reign and the country’s current instability – a different option. She was once infamously dubbed “Russia’s Paris Hilton”, and is also famous for being the daughter of Putin’s former mentor.

    While Sobchak has plenty of fame and popularity, she has little chance of winning. The cynics  argue that the presence of a young, well-known liberal candidate such as Sobchak in the end only demonstrates why Putin is all but certain to win again.

    So what motivated Putin’s delayed announcement of his plan to run for president and allow a candidate like Sobchak to campaign freely and get a head start in the elections? The answer is that with her popularity, Sobchak can ensure the legitimacy of Putin’s victory.

    Putin’s most suitable opponent for elections is not a candidate that can win, but rather someone who can attract as many people as possible to the polling station. The obvious choice would be the Russian celebrity who is known by 95 percent of the population.

    The paradoxical figure of the show-woman connected both with Putin’s mediaand with the liberal elite – with a high visibility factor among the public – solves the dilemma of legitimate opposition and sufficient representation at the polls.

    If he wins, what would Putin’s fourth presidential term mean for Russia? What would it mean for him to serve another six years as president until 2024, when he turns 72?

    It seems that extending his dominance over Russia’s political landscape into a third decade will be a contest that he is comfortably poised to win. Putin’s team tried to generate a level of intrigue which did not exist in reality, they wanted it to look like it was the Russian people demanding for him to seek another term in the upcoming elections.

    Putin though, does not face any real challengers since nobody, including the ineligible Navalny, looks capable of defeating him.

    The very role of Putin in this campaign has changed: it is not he who is preparing himself for the elections. But rather the administration preparing the president for elections as he prefers not to sink into a dull and ordinary life. 

    It will be far more interesting to see the transformation of Putin’s Russia into a post-Putin Russia after the upcoming term.

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