Despite the near certainty of Vladimir Putin’s reelection in the Russian presidential election next month, the campaign is nevertheless competitive with an array of choices, notes Gilbert Doctorow in this first of three articles on the election.
By Gilbert Doctorow
On Monday, February 18, one month before election day, Russia’s presidential campaign moved into high gear. On that day, the Central Election Commission allocated to the candidates several hours each of free publicity on the five federal television channels, on major radio networks and free space in print media with national circulation.
This comes on top of daily news coverage of each and every candidate’s activities in the field and invitations to appear on leading television talk shows and interviews which are dispensed by media producers at their option. And it is rounded out by advertising paid for by the electoral headquarters of the eight candidates.
The net result is that domestic politics are jostling with Olympics coverage and international news for the attention of the broad Russian public, and will continue to do so until the Day of Silence, 17 March, when the campaigns shut down in anticipation of the balloting the next day.
In the West, election news from Russia carried by mainstream media has centered on Alexei Navalny. Prior to his disqualification as a candidate by the Central Election Commission in December, he was characterized as posing the only real threat to Vladimir Putin’s hold on power through his popular exposes of official and corporate corruption disseminated virally on social media and YouTube. All others in the race were put down as Kremlin controlled and tolerated only to give sham elections an appearance of authenticity.
When his candidacy was rejected due to an earlier criminal conviction, Navalny issued a call to boycott the election. He launched unsanctioned street demonstrations in Moscow and elsewhere, leading to scuffles with the police. Some of his supporters and Navalny himself were arrested and later released. But the protests were all on a small scale and Western media quickly lost interest.