Could Putin and Medvedev face off in an open Russian election?
Prime Minister Putin electrified observers this week by saying that neither he nor President Dmitry Medvedev had ruled out being candidates for president in 2012.
As the political differences between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev widen into a visible public rift, and each continues to insist on the wish to run for president in polls next year, some Russians are mulling a prospect that sounded like a fantasy just a few weeks ago: What if they faced off against each other in an open and fair election?Skip to next paragraph
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It was Mr. Putin himself who kicked off the speculation that's now surging like electricity through Russia's blogosphere. "Neither me nor Dmitry have ruled out that each of us could be a candidate in the race," he said last week in an effort to tamp down discussion about the looming Kremlin choice. "We will proceed from the real situation closer to the elections."
Putin was responding to remarks made by Mr. Medvedev at a conference of the BRICS nations in China. "I do not rule out that I will run for a new term as president," he said. "A decision will be made in the fairly near future, because there is less than a year remaining. It is high time for changes."
For the past three years, the former two-term president Putin and his anointed successor, Medvedev, have run the country in a more-or-less amicable "tandem" – but one in which Putin always seemed to be the senior partner. Both routinely insisted that relations between them were fine, and that in due course they would decide "between themselves" which would run as the establishment candidate for president. In the system of "managed democracy" built by Putin, state backing is crucial to winning elections, and Kremlin critics have found themselves marginalized, even when they are allowed to put their names on the ballot.
Is that a campaign platform?
But over recent weeks, public disagreements within the "tandem" have grown more frequent, and some political forces have begun to coagulate around the potential candidacies of each, complete with think tank studies that read a lot like draft campaign platforms.
"There are a number of voices now, both from liberal and conservative camps, that maintain it would be best to break with [the Putin system] and let the voters decide between them," says Alexei Pushkov, anchor of Post Scriptum, Russia's most popular TV public affairs program.