Sobchak and the presidential reality show

"Why does the Kremlin allow socialite Ksenia Sobchak to take part in the presidential elections? Distraction? Theatricality? According to Mark Galeotti's piece for Raam op Rusland it reflects the limitations of Putin's hyper-presidential system. 'Vote against all' is a way out for the population."

The news that Ksenia Sobchak, part-time opposition gadfly, erstwhile reality TV host, and full-time celebrity, plans to stand in the 2018 presidential elections has – rightly – been interpreted as a Kremlin bid to ‘sex up’ what otherwise seemed unbearably tedious elections and also to split Alexei Navalny’s opposition camp. That Sobchak presented herself as the ‘against everyone’ candidate, simply a depository for disaffection and detachment, seemed to prove that this was just a piece of pre-election theatre. But there is a reason why authoritarian regimes censor the theatre. Even if the outcome of the elections is a foregone conclusion, politics are by no means dead in Russia.

The challenge for the Kremlin’s political technologists is the calibration of participation. Putin’s Russia is neither a Western democracy, nor Stalinism. It is a ramshackle mix of kleptocracy, authoritarianism and, perverse though it may seem to say it, democratic practices. The very reason why elections are held and the level of turnout matters, why over the years the Kremlin has worked to maintain the pretence of party competition, is not to appease the West (we have no trouble dealing with authoritarian China and monarchic and repressive Saudi Arabia), but to appease its own people.

Ksenia Sobchak is not seeking to topple Putin. Indeed, the only way she can get the requisite number of signatures even to be able to stand in the elections is with the government’s open or tacit support. She has talked in vague terms of a comprehensive renewal of every aspect of the country, from its politics to its economy, but even in her own words, by voting for Sobchak, ‘you are not electing her to the presidency. You are using a legal and peaceful opportunity to say Enough!

You can read the full article here.

Dr Mark Galeotti is the IIR Senior Researcher, the Co-ordinator of the Centre for European Security of the IIR as well as an internationally recognized expert on transnational organized crime, security issues and modern Russia.