Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fall in Putin’s Ratings Could have Silver Lining for Kremlin, ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – The declines in levels of public trust in Vladimir Putin and other prominent Russian politicians, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta says, are “creating a favorable milieu for the appearance of new figures” on the Russian political Olympus – and these need not be from the opposition, systemic or extra-systemic.

            To the extent that happens, they say in a lead article today, the rating declines may help the authorities rather than open the way for a challenge from one or another opposition figure who some believe might be able to take advantage of the current slump in the rating Russians give to Putin and the others (ng.ru/editorial/2018-10-08/2_7327_red.html).

            Trust in Putin has fallen from 59 percent in November 2017 to 39 percent, a figure that is what it was in 2013, the editors say.  The reasons for the decline are “obvious” and include the pension reform which has sparked widespread protests, tax increases, and the wearing away at the boost the Kremlin received from the annexation of Crimea.

            In order to understand the meaning of these numbers, Nezavisimaya gazeta continues, “it is important to focus one’s attention on the indicators of other politicians. The highest trust rating after Putin, judging from the Levada Center poll, is held by Vladimir Zhirinovsky; but his is only 15 percent. [And] he has one of the highest anti-ratings – 20 percent.”

            “In other words,” the paper says, “Putin’s rating may be falling; but as before, he does not have any competitors among Russian politicians. For comparison, the most well-known extra-systemic politician, Aleksey Navalny is trusted by only three percent,” polls show, perhaps indicating that Russians don’t view him as someone they might have the chance to vote for.

            Moreover, the editors say, it is important “not to confuse this measure of trust with electoral indicators. The Russian powers that have in their hands effective levers of control over the political field.” They can keep out anyone; and if new presidential elections were held this weekend, Putin would win much as he did earlier, although participation might fall. 

            But that doesn’t mean that these measures of trust are irrelevant or that they inevitably work against the powers that be.  Of course, a left-of-center figure could emerge who would challenge the regime on the pension issue; but that is only one of the possibilities – and there are obvious ones that would work to the benefit of the Russian political system.

            “The powers that be themselves can fill the niche of trust,” the paper writes, arguing that “there is nothing paradoxical about that.” Over the next few years, the system has to decide on Putin’s successor.  Dmitry Medvedev is hardly a good candidate given his “anti-rating” of 30 percent.

            Instead, Nezavisimaya gazeta suggests, the system needs to focus on “a relatively new figure whom public opinion doesn’t associate directly with unpopular reforms.” Consequently, what will be critical for this decision, it continues will be the anti-ratings of those from whom the Kremlin might make a choice. 

            But what is critical is that such a figure could win over the population, “and closeness to Putin will not be for him or her politically toxic.” At the same time, the editors point out, Putin’s own anti-rating must not be allowed to grow. It currently stands at 13 percent, according to the Levada Center.

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