Tiny Kox in Russia: Putin’s campaign

4 March 2012

Tiny Kox in Russia: Putin’s campaign

On Sunday 4th March Russia elects a new president. International observers are in the country to look into the degree to which the elections are free and fair. SP Senator Tiny Kox is head of the Council of Europe observers’ team and will report each day.

Day 4: Meeting with Putin’s campaign leader

Tiny KoxToday, all campaign activities are completely forbidden, the idea being to give the voters chance to reflect. That’s why Stanislav Govorukhin has time for me. The illustrious 75-year-old campaign leader talks nineteen-to-the-dozen. He apologises for Putin’s absence. Too busy, unfortunately. He reckons that his candidate will win and that one round will suffice. That’s what the polls say, and his own information sources around the entire country say the same. It will be most difficult in the biggest cities, which he puts down to the internet. Neither he nor the candidate have paid much attention to this new medium, and that could possibly do some harm in the places with the highest internet access. But in the rest of the country television is the communication medium and on that score Putin has nothing to complain of. At worst the Prime minister is a little too much in the picture, Govorukhin thinks, and in that his team might be at fault. But of course the PM has to do his job, and in Russia that’s on some occasions covered intensively on the TV.

Has the Putin campaign been affected by the mass protests since December’s controversial parliamentary elections? Of course. Too much went wrong then. The governing United Russia party had used its powerful position to its own advantage and that led to a great deal of protest. That’s why Premier Putin immediately said that the coming presidential elections must be clean and fair. In order to underline that, the Putin camp had offered observers’ positions to everyone that wanted such work, regardless of their political views. Other candidates had followed that example. And Putin had also succeeded in ensuring that each polling station could be viewed via webcams tomorrow.

Govorukhin has enjoyed the campaign, which was exceptional, he says. And he should know. After the fall of the Soviet Union he was at first an MP for the Democratic Party. In 1996 he supported the campaign of the Communist Zyuganov against incumbent President Yeltsin, who managed to win only through massive fraud. In 2000 Govorukhin fought the election himself, without success, gaining less than 1% of the vote but learning, he says, a great deal, knowledge which he uses now that he leads Putin’s campaign. He is, he says, probably moreover Putin’s biggest risk. ”I’m no blind follower, and have had a fair number of criticisms of him. But he is now far-and-away the best candidate and so I conduct his campaign, and with great pleasure.” A film-maker, Govorukhin will be sad when the campaign ends, but will then begin on his new movie, a Russian version of a script filmed earlier by Louis Malle.

Our first report must be published immediately after tomorrow’s press conference, which requires continual consultation with our partners from the OSCE. Thanks to them, and the various missions from the Council of Europe which I have headed here, we already know a great deal. Tomorrow afternoon we come together once again to look at the first written and telephone reports from our observers. We’ve divided up as well as we could through the country, albeit that with such a huge surface area a really thorough coverage is of course impossible. Fortunately there are also 100,000 domestic observers, far more than on other occasions. Maita van de Mark, an SP councillor who is here to write about these observers for our monthly magazine De Tribune, tells me that she has met many extremely enthusiastic people who told her of their motives and plans. Many are young people, but there are also a lot of older people who are fed up with so much going awry in elections in Russia. They are well-trained, and we’re both curious to see how their presence in the polling stations will affect things. Whatever happens, their concern and involvement are a hopeful element in this campaign. Tomorrow we’ll know more. The polling stations open at eight.

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