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No programme, no debate but Putin cruising to poll win

Putin (left) and Lavrov (right)

Moscow, Russia | AFP | Running with a lacklustre slogan, no programme and refusing to debate his opponents, it sometimes seems like Russian President Vladimir Putin is not campaigning for re-election at all.

But it is unlikely to matter for the 65-year-old strongman who is cruising towards victory and a historic fourth Kremlin term in next month’s election, with a result that seems so inevitable analysts are calling it a return to the Soviet era.

“Putin is the only candidate without a programme. That is extremely alarming,” said Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center, describing it as “a demonstration of disregard for his people.”

As always, Putin has bowed out of debates and has symbolically refused his free television airtime as a candidate.

But he already benefits from wall-to-wall news coverage, and Channel One state television has been rebroadcasting Oliver Stone’s four-part documentary about him although it won’t show the last episode until after the vote following a slap on the wrist from the electoral commission.

The most visible sign of his campaign are the images of him plastered on billboards along highways outside Moscow under the slogan: “A strong president makes for a strong country.”

Generic posters from the Central Electoral Commission urging people to vote are everywhere.

Putin’s main task is to ensure a respectable turnout, with state pollsters VTsIOM predicting 80.4 percent although last time, participation was just over 65 percent.

– ‘The most meaningless poll’ –

“We have returned to what we had hoped to leave behind after the collapse of Soviet power: ritualistic elections where… the result is pre-programmed,” wrote columnist Fyodor Krasheninnikov in the independent weekly, The New Times.

And others agree.

“This is the most meaningless of all the presidential polls in Russia, the most lacking in substance,” said Kolesnikov.

So far, the most striking moment of Putin’s “campaign” was when he joined millions of Orthodox Christians in plunging into an ice hole wearing swimming trunks for the January’s Epiphany holiday.

He has since skipped several events this week after coming down with a rare cold.

Functions he has attended have been highly choreographed such as a recent meeting with local mayors, when Putin was choppered in, met with a star-struck few as journalists watched on a screen from another room.

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