Russian presidential aspirant Vladimir Putin has confronted a dilemma: Should he seek a victory on the first ballot, or should he defer victory and win in a runoff on the 2nd ballot?
Those who advised Putin to wait argued that a first ballot victory would reawaken the protests against voter fraud that followed the elections to the Russian Duma. Advocates of a first ballot victory retorted that this would simply drag out the uncertainty for another three weeks and it was best to have the elections over and done with.
Furthermore, in terms of Putin's prestige, even a convincing victory on the second ballot would be a come down for Putin. Although, considering the fact that his likely opponent would be Genady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader his victory would be massive. The Russians have been rejecting Zyuganov and his return to Communism platform since 1996.
It now appears that the decision has been made and the electoral machine will try to assure victory already on the first ballot. Putin's spokesperson and pollsters are predicting a first ballot win. Activists have been promised cash rewards for impressive results in their regions on the first ballot. Polling officials who were resistant during the Duma elections to making numerical revisions to the voting totals have been shunted aside for more pliant personnel and perhaps the most telling sign is the reassertion of tight control over the media.
The independent radio station Echo of Moscow has had a management shakeup at the behest of its owner the energy giant Gazprom. Prosecutors first summoned and then cancelled questioning on labor violations for the station's staff.
Vladimir Putin openly expressed his displeasure with the liberal station about a month ago when he told its editor Aleksei Venediktov how shocked he was to hear the radio defending the US missile defense system meant to counter the Iranian missile threat. Russia considers it a threat to its own missile deterrence and has opposed its deployment.
The editor did not take umbrage but Putin went on: “I see that you are upset with me. I see it in your face. Why? I do not take offense when you pour diarrhea on me day in and day out, and yet you have taken offense.”
The pretext is that the station is not performing well economically although it is in the black. Gazprom that has acted as an arm of Russian foreign policy is so rich that even if the station was losing money it would be considered peanuts. In any case Gazprom that has owned the station since 2001 never raised the issue before. Some of Putin's opponents as well as station employees have offered to buy the station off Gazprom if it was such an economic burden. Gazprom does not wish to sell.