May 21, 2013
The Puzzling Presidential Candidacy of Mikhail Prokhorov
Posted on Jan 3, 2012
By Ivo Mijnssen
Prokhorov’s personal and political background makes his rationale as a candidate for the presidency all the more puzzling. Some, like Russian political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky of the National Strategy Institute, believe that the Kremlin orchestrated Prokhorov’s candidacy. Belkovsky called it “the Kremlin’s answer to Bolotnaya Square,” referring to the large protests in Moscow. There are certainly indicators for this thesis: Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin mastermind and “father” of the political philosophy of Sovereign Democracy, stated in an interview Dec. 6 that Russia needed a new liberal party that could give a political home to “annoyed” city residents. Furthermore, Putin could be interested in an opposition candidate to lend the presidential elections, which he is sure to win, more legitimacy.
Prokhorov has always denied any explicit agreements between himself and the Kremlin. He has, however, stated that criticism of Putin would be no more than 10 percent of his program. Putin said that Prokhorov was a worthy competitor with many ideas that were right for the country. Prokhorov has even acknowledged that the Kremlin wanted to use his candidacy to bolster the legitimacy of the elections: “They want to play with democracy so that people have ‘some kind of a choice.’ The authorities want to use us for their own understandable goals, but we will use them.”
All that this set of facts proves, however, is that the Kremlin does not consider Prokhorov’s candidacy an immediate threat—especially because of the unpopularity of oligarchs in Russia. The pollsters agree: In all recent surveys, Prokhorov’s potential is estimated at 5 to 10 percent of the electorate.
On the other hand, “Prokhorov is a glamorous oligarch and he’s got plenty of money to spend on promoting himself,” said Sergei Markov, a professor of political science at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Running for president without a powerful party in the background takes some resources indeed. Prokhorov needs to collect 2 million signatures before Jan. 18 in order to submit his candidacy. The theory that Prokhorov’s campaign is motivated mainly by his idiosyncratic personality is also corroborated by the fact that it appears rather improvised. An anonymous member of the billionaire’s campaign staff told The New Times that Prokhorov’s decision had been “spontaneous,” and that there had been “no preparations.”
To what extent Prokhorov manages to attract the support of the Russian opposition that is not represented in the Duma remains to be seen. Navalny said that he might run for president himself, and liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov considers Prokhorov to be in cahoots with Putin. The candidate himself has been very careful not to get too involved with the non-systemic opposition. Prokhorov participated in the large rally Dec. 24 in Moscow, but he did not address the crowd.
One effect Prokhorov’s candidacy has had, however, is to enliven Russia’s political landscape. There are now seven candidates who will compete with Putin, all of whom are expected to get between 5 and 10 percent of the vote. Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Policy Foundation, thus considers it possible that the current prime minister will not receive the absolute majority of votes in the first round of elections. Having to go into a second round would be a humiliation for the most powerful man in Russia, who is struggling with waning popularity. It could foreshadow a time when Putin is not the default winner of Russian presidential elections.
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