Are early presidential elections likely?

The federal law "On election of the President of the Russian Federation" states that a citizen, who prematurely terminated the duties of the president "can not be nominated for the election scheduled due to the early termination of their powers." Source: Sergey Pivovarov/RIA Novosti

The federal law "On election of the President of the Russian Federation" states that a citizen, who prematurely terminated the duties of the president "can not be nominated for the election scheduled due to the early termination of their powers." Source: Sergey Pivovarov/RIA Novosti

Former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin has called for presidential elections to be held ahead of time. Kudrin’s opinion, traditionally heeded in Russia, is being opposed by parliamentary parties, while analysts are divided over the idea of early presidential polls.

Alexey Kudrin, who served as Russia’s Finance Minister from 2000 to 2011, and is widely regarded as a supporter of liberal reforms, has called for early presidential elections to be held to implement the "new reform program." Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on June 18, Kudrin said it would be easier for the head of state to implement required reforms with a new vote of confidence. 

While making the proposal, Kudrin referred to deputies bringing the Duma elections forward. The bill to advance the date of State Duma elections, from December to September 2016, was approved by the lower house of parliament in the first reading on June 19, supported by all parliamentary parties except the Communist Party. Proponents of the bill underlined the advantages of holding elections on a single day, along with the country’s regional and municipal elections. 

The federal law "On election of the President of the Russian Federation" states that a citizen, who prematurely terminated the duties of the president "can not be nominated for the election scheduled due to the early termination of their powers." However, observers note that the positions of the pro-presidential United Russia in the parliament are strong enough to enable the pro-Kremlin faction to easily poll enough votes to change the law.

The Stalin model?

Yevgeny Gontmakher, a liberal think-tank economist and member of the Committee of Civil Initiatives headed by Kudrin, raised the idea of moving the presidential poll date in an article in Vedomosti newspaper. The reason that could push the Kremlin to move the scheduled poll date is a further deterioration of the country’s socio-economic situation, which could complicate presidential elections, due in 2018.

According to Gontmakher, (President Vladimir) Putin would win early elections, and could use the new vote of confidence to implement the "mobilization scenario" of development, a model similar to (Joseph) Stalin's version of modernization.

Representatives of Russian parliamentary parties did not support Kudrin’s proposal.

Sergey Neverov, Secretary General Council of the ruling United Russia party, called the idea "irrelevant", saying he saw it as "an attempt to bring certain instability in society”. The Communist Party sees no need to shift the presidential election date and neither do the Liberal Democratic Party and Fair Russia.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Kudrin’s proposal.

"This is a new proposition,” Peskov said. “Surely this idea will be discussed along with others in some political science expert circles.”

Peskov said he did not know whether Kudrin had discussed the idea with Putin.

Sounding public opinion

Igor Bunin, general director of the independent Centre for Political Technologies, disagreed with Peskov and said Kudrin’s statement was an attempt to gauge public opinion, and had certainly been approved by the president.

“I do not think that this is his personal statement. I think that he spoke to the president about it, and received his permission to announce this idea”, Bunin said.

Like Gontmakher, Bunin said that shifting the poll date would allow it to be held well before the crisis. The peak of the crisis, according to the analyst, would be in 2018.

Bunin also believes that if polls are advanced, Putin could launch major reforms, not under the ‘mobilization’ plan, but following the more liberal model, described by Kudrin. Post-totalitarian, atomized society in Russia has neither the resources nor the ideological capacity for ‘mobilization’ in line with the Stalin model, Bunin believes. Another equally probable scenario is that elections could be shifted merely to ensure the re-election of Putin. The analyst did not see any major legal obstacles to this. To shift the election date would require a federal law to be amended. Putin leader has adequate support in parliament to carry it through.

Kudrin's initiative

There are diverse opinions about what propelled Kudrin to make his suggestion.

Dmitriy Orlov, the pro-government CEO of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, believes the former minister’s statement is his own, and "does not express consolidated the position of the Russian political elite and it is unlikely to be favourably received by the leadership of Russia’s executive power".

According to Orlov, Kudrin is trying to show that the Committee of Civil Initiatives has political weight and can influence the decision-making process, when in reality it can not. "The chances of such a decision [to shift the presidential poll date] are extremely small,"  said Orlov.

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