Putin may find himself back as President but the landscape in Russia is changing

RUSSIA’S Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win the country’s presidential elections on 4 March. However, observers warn that he will face more challenges to his rule after the victory.

According to opinion polls, Putin is firmly in front in the presidential race, with a share of between 37% and 53% of the votes.

None of four other candidates — Russian Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov, Liberal Democrat party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, businessman Mikhail Prokhorov and A Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov — have so far been able to challenge Putin’s strong position. Each of these candidates may collect between 3% and 10% of the votes.

Political observers in Moscow expect a larger than usual attendance at polling stations this coming Sunday, as Putin’s decision to run for the presidency for the third time has clearly stirred strong opposition, especially in large Russian cities with affluent middle classes. Opposition leaders and some of the public are widely accusing Putin and large Russian corporations such as gas monopoly Gazprom which are managed by his allies, of corruption. They also point to Putin’s alleged failures to fulfil numerous promises made for more than a decade.

Observers note that Putin is clearly feeling the middle class disappointment as he has opted to campaign in remote regions of the country with a higher number of humble workers and a lower educated population.

However, even humble people are expected to become disgruntled by Putin, as the regional authorities and loyal corporations such as Rosneft, are forcing low level employees to attend pro-Putin rallies or face the possibility of being fired.

For Putin, the Russia of 2012 may turn out to be a different country with a changing political landscape compared to the nation he left under Dmitry Medvedev’s supervision in 2008.

Discontent with Putin and his secretive friends and allies in Russian politics and economics, is growing rapidly. In the next six years, Russia is likely to finally see the answer to the question of who Mr Putin really is —a reformer leading Russia out of stagnation or a dictator cracking down on discontent and opposition.

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