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    WHAT THE LOSERS LOST

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    Marina Shakina, RIA Novosti political commentator Moscow, March 15

    Public opinion recognised the 2004 presidential election in Russia as lacking an alternative and intrigue well before the polling stations opened. Indeed, its political result had long been predicted and came as no surprise to anyone. However, closer scrutiny reveals at least two interesting points.

    The first is: who took second place? Surveys conducted prior to voting suggested that "the silver medallist" would trail the winner by a huge margin, about 50%. Nevertheless, second place in these conditions would give the candidate a good political trump card for a future gamble, for example in 2008.

    Nikolai Kharitonov, the candidate put forward by the Communist Party (KPRF), took second place with 13.8 % of the vote, which is a little better than the KPRF's showing in the December parliamentary election. What does it mean? The result will not determine either the destiny of the KPRF or Kharitonov personally. Even in the light of his second place, he can hardly be seen as a promising nationwide politician, because the result does not seem to be a personal triumph, but rather reflects how a considerable part of the KPRF electorate is still loyal to left-wing ideas, despite all the temptations. The Communists are still experiencing a crisis of ideas and leaders, which was confirmed at the election.

    Political scientists had long pointed out that everyone, except Vladimir Putin, had opted to tackle narrow issues during the presidential election campaign. As prominent political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky put it, everyone "had personal, not political, stakes" in the election marathon. For example, Sergei Glazyev, the discovery of the past political season, could have bet on taking second place and then rallying the left-wing opposition or semi-opposition electorate with a view to running in the 2008 election.

    The Homeland bloc, which only appeared on the political scene recently, secured a sensational result in the December 2003 parliamentary election, gathering over 9% of the vote. This was a good advance for Glazyev, in whom many experts see political potential. At the beginning of the year, Glazyev really was in second place in terms of voters' presidential preferences. However, he did not exercise enough self-restraint or skill. He put forward his candidacy for the presidency without securing the consent of his colleagues, who include many ambitious and prominent politicians. Then, he hurried to found his own movement of the same name - Homeland.

    As a result, by March 14, Sergei Glazyev had been left without his bloc and the post of parliamentary faction leader. This lowered his prestige in voters' eyes and their interest in him waned. Consequently, he took third place with 4.1%. If he had been more successful, Glazyev could have maintained support from Homeland and won a considerable part of the hard core of the KPRF's electorate over to his side. However, political scientists' dream about forming a bloc of "the new Left" will have to be waited for the time being.

    Irina Khakamada was attempting to rally the democratic electorate round her. If her showing had been better than that of the SPS and Yabloko in the 2003 parliamentary election, it would have been possible to talk about this goal in earnest. However, many considered this task to be unfeasible and evidently turned out to be right. By March 14, Khakamada, like Glazyev, had been left without supporters. Her own party, the SPS, had adopted a decision to allow its members a free vote, i.e. it did not back her, while Yabloko called on Russians to boycott the election. As a result, she took a mere 3.8%. However, Khakamada will evidently withdraw from the SPS all the same, regardless of her result in the presidential election, and form her own party. Experts believe that in the next few years, the democratic movement in Russia will look for a new face, meaning that both the SPS and Yabloko may disappear.

    No one in the country took the candidacies of Sergei Mironov and Oleg Malyshkin (LDPR) seriously. The speaker of the upper house of the parliament ran in the election to ensure that there was at least an alternative to Putin. He did his job. Nobody is upset over his modest result (0.8%), as the result was never of primary importance.

    It is unclear why Malyshkin decided to stand for the presidency. Most probably, he made his "personal stake", as Pavlovsky has put it, on gaining popularity. The two percent he gathered are, in reality, the success of LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who supported Malyshkin throughout the election campaign. In Russia, many still fall under the influence of Zhirinovsky and his eclectic national-great-power idea and social demagoguery.

    The number of those who voted against all the candidates doubled in comparison with 2000, reaching 3.5 %. However, this did not decide the outcome of election.

    Another interesting point is the turnout. The idea of boycotting the presidential election appeared in opposition circles right after the December parliamentary election. However, neither the parties nor ordinary voters paid it any real heed, which is proved by the fact that over 60% of the voters came to polling stations. The turnout is always higher for Russian presidential elections than parliamentary and local elections. This is a historical tradition, which will be hard to change.

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