Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov has all but declared his intention to run for the Presidency in 2008. The Moscow Times reports a speech he gave on Monday:
“The party elected me leader, and as the leader I must carry out the party’s assignment to run for president,” Zyuganov said at a news conference where he presented Communist candidates for the upcoming Moscow City Duma elections. “If the party assigns me to run, I am ready to run.”
Zyuganov’s remarks signaled a change of heart from last year’s presidential election, which he skipped after his party’s weak showing in the 2003 State Duma elections. Putin overwhelmingly won re-election.
This is sensible politics from Zyuganov, who is perhaps the most famous communist still in Russian Politics today. He avoided running in the last election because (a) he didn’t have a hope of winning and didn’t want to embarass himself, and (b) wanted to demonstrate to Putin that he wasn’t directly challenging him, so that the Communists could better work with the Kremlin.
In 2008, though, Putin (probably) won’t be standing for re-election. If nothing unforseen happens over the next few years, Putin and the Kremlin retain their current standing with the electorate, and no liberal challenger rises to mount a significant challenge, he’ll hope to take advantage of the Communists core vote and any protest vote to gain a share of 20-30% and re-establish the Communist Party as a force in Russian politics. I’d say that, given the weakness of the other opposition parties at the moment, he has a fair chance of succeeding.
On the other hand, if something dramatic does happen – perhaps Putin’s nominated replacement will garner little support, and/or a real challenge does arise from an electoral candidate such as Mikhail Kasyanov, the Zyuganov will look at the Presidential race and consider it wide open. In such a scenario, where the electorate may well be divided, he will consider, he has as good a chance of winning the big job as anyone else.
If, by chance, someone like Kasyanov gains a big lead, then my first scenario will come back into play – Zyuganov will look to gain 20-30% of the vote, and re-establish the Communist party as a force in Russian politics again.
By declaring himself in the race early he will be hoping to gradually build momentum through pecking away at Putin’s government. I’d expect to see the Communists heading up and taking the credit for an increasing number of populist protests marches over the coming months as they try to woo those dissatisfied with Putin, and build a base from which to mount a serious challenge in 2008.