Just a few weeks ago, Vladimir Putin's advisers were debating campaign and election strategy. There was no unanimity amongst them.
Some thought that it would be best for their candidate to win on the first ballot by receiving an absolute majority of votes cast on the first ballot. Others advised holding off to the second ballot to score the victory. The first option had decisiveness to recommend it, while the second strategy, assimilating the lessons of the disputed parliamentary election, sought to parry charges of electoral fraud.
The belief that the elections could be micromanaged found expression in discussions about what was the appropriate victory margin on a region by region basis in Russia.
Putin's margin could be allowed to be higher in his home town of St. Petersburg than in Moscow, the advisers surmisd. It areas such as Chechnya, where in the parliamentary ballot United Russia scored too striking a success in the parliamentary election, the results had to be toned down to a margin of 65% and not more.
Now with the polls, however unreliable, showing VladimirPutin with 37% of the vote, this debate seems like ancient history. Vladimir Putin may be forced into a runoff and this represents a major comedown for Putin after taking 72% of the vote in 2004.
In light of these developments, Putin seems to have drafted an election platform all on his own. The manifesto was an amalgam of domestic liberalism, economic benefits and foreign policy toughness. Apparently liberalism will be a hot product. Some of the candidates have already promised to released jailed Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Special courts will be set up to allow citizens to complain against officials. This sounds liberal, but also can be used to purge the bureaucracy of deadwood and opponents.
Putin promised a major drive against corruption that will encompass the most vulnerable areas: state purchases, road construction and law enforcement. The question that arises is, who was in power since 2000 and why hasn't he produced more tangible results on corruption up to now?
After praising Russia's economic record while the rest of the world languished in recession, Putin promised to double productivity via economic modernization and investments. This policy would translate into higher wages, pensions and living standards.
Putin promised to reform the military so it could accomplish its objectives, while employing increased firepower and implementing the recent technological breakthroughs.
Liberalization at home does not mean lowering one's guard abroad, in this platform. The Americans and others could not sign things behind Russia's back. In an obvious reference to the Americans, Putin warns: “Unilateral steps by our partners that disregard Russia’s opinion and its interests will receive an appropriate assessment and commensurate reaction.”