Russians 'condemn' Putin's job swap plan: sociologist
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin's plan to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev has weakened his standing and alienated scores of voters ahead of key polls, the author of a new study said Friday.
On September 24, Prime Minister Putin, who already served as president between 2000 and 2008, announced a plan to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March presidential polls, with Medvedev agreeing to step aside after just one term in office and become prime minister.
The country's new power scheme was immediately dubbed a "castling" by official media and experts after the move in chess when the king changes places with the rook.
"The castling has made a gloomy impression on the Russian people," sociologist Sergei Belanovsky, who is research director at the Moscow-based Centre for Strategic Research think tank, told AFP.
"The way the power has been transferred has been condemned," Belanovsky said, noting a recurring question coming up in his focus groups was: "Are we living under a monarchy?"
A study co-authored by Belanovsky and released Thursday said Putin had been steadily losing supporters over the past months, and his job swap announcement was expected to deal a further blow to his approval ratings.
Before the historic September 24 announcement the ruling tandem had catered to Russia's opposite social poles, the study said, with Putin seen as the leader of average Russians and his younger protege Medvedev drawing support from the urban middle class and the elite.
The two men "have complemented each other, masking an accumulating conflict of interests of these poles," said the study, adding that the castling, by proving that Medvedev was not an independent figure, had become a liability for the tandem's image.
"As the result of the castling, the tandem's image losses are irreversible because support lost by Medvedev is not being transferred to Putin and weakens the total political foundation of the tandem," the study said.
"Such a decision creates additional risks for the political system," it said.
Putin himself is unable to appeal to both his traditional supporters and Medvedev's backers, and he must also deal with the ageing of his political brand, the study said.
In the absence of alternatives, Putin's supporters are becoming increasingly disengaged from politics, said the research, noting that Russia is seeing the emergence of "angry anti-voters."
That development is also highlighted by a fresh crop of cynical political jokes and visual gags comparing the influential prime minister to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled over the Soviet Union for 18 years until his death in 1982, the study said.
In a poll by the independent Levada Centre released last month, 24 percent of respondents termed the Putin-Medvedev job swap "a stitch-up between the two politicians behind the people's back."
"I am afraid that this may end badly for us all," said Belanovsky, referring to Putin's decision to run for re-election in a move that could keep him in power until 2024, by which time he would be 72 and the longest-serving Moscow leader since dictator Josef Stalin.
Russia is holding parliamentary elections on December 4, which Putin's ruling United Russia party is expected to win easily.
Political analyst and former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky praised the report, calling Putin's comeback plan a mistake that did not meet the demands of the present day.
"A sense of reality, which used to be the Kremlin team's strong suit, has been lost," Pavlovsky told AFP.
Putin's ratings have slipped recently, falling to 61 percent by November 1 from 66 percent on October 11, according to a new poll of 1,600 people by the Levada Centre released earlier this week.
© 2011 AFP