Putin will stay czar after sham election
Russians are expected Sunday to elect President Vladimir Putin's prime minister to succeed him as head of state.
While Americans grapple with the task of selecting the next president, Russians are engaged in exercising what Kremlin officials call "managed democracy." As a result, Dmitry Medvedev, hand-picked by President Vladimir Putin to succeed him, will be routinely elected to the office on Sunday. In reality, Putin will remain the czar.
The election of Medvedev, Putin's prime minister, is so certain that most Russians would not bother to vote, so the government is coercing them to go to the polls on Sunday and cast their votes for him or else. That is not necessary because Putin has achieved control of the media and his government has crushed the activities of any viable opponent.
U.S. presidential candidates have recognized the artificiality of the Russian election and Medvedev's lack of importance. In Wednesday's Ohio debate, Sen. Hillary Clinton struggled to say his name. "Med, um, Mededveda, whatever ..." she said, coming close to correctly pronouncing his wife, Svetlana's, last name -- Medvedeva -- the "a" at the end conforming with Russian custom. Sen. Barack Obama didn't even try.
Russians credit Putin with bringing political stability to the country after the chaos that followed the toppling of the Soviet Union, appearing to restore Russia's position as a world power and economic growth attributed largely to oil price increases.
Medvedev has said he will appoint Putin to prime minister. From there, Putin will continue in charge of the Kremlin and eventually return as president. The Russian constitution prohibits a person only from serving more than two consecutive terms.
In the meantime, leaders of the United States and other industrialized countries might be curious about who will show up representing Russia when the Group of Eight convenes this year in Japan.
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