March of 2011 will bring another round of elections to Russia. Vladimir Putin
is facing opposition from the communists
, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov
and possibly another candidate. The election for president will be held in two rounds. Putin is likely to win the presidency, but his biggest hurdle may be convincing the electorate of the legitimacy of his rule and the belief that he may just steal an election he really doesn't have to.
There are easy steps that Putin could take to help ensure the perception of legitimacy of the election. He could invite international observers who are more than willing to monitor elections. He could give a prominent role in the electoral process to vocal critic Alexei Navaln
y. He could pledge swift justice to anyone who participates in electoral fraud, even it comes from his camp.
The real question is whether Putin has a stake in ensuring fair elections. He could have two possible reasons to insure fair elections.
Reason Number One: Organized Crime
The first reason is organized crime. Organized crime
is prominent and powerful in Russia. There are claims that Putin has been allied with gangsters in helping to cover up drug trafficking. So, organized crime may be an ally, for now. But criminals would be just as likely to get rid of Putin as keep him if its in their best interest.
Putin could go a long way towards insuring faith in the electoral process by ensuring that in Russia, the rule of law will prevail, It could thus be doubly in Putin's favor to eschew any ties to organize crime.
Putin has another selfish reason to ensure free and fair elections.
Reason Number Two: Legacy
Putin loves power and also thinks well of himself. He could help Russians believe the electoral process is fair by announcing a limit to his presidential terms and sticking to it.
No longer being president does not mean, necessarily, a loss of power and influence. In this country, for instance, many ex-politicians are still influential and powerful, albeit in different ways.
By agreeing to step down, Putin could still be powerful and influential. He would also gain considerable influence by being the man who made sure that elections in Russia were truly free and fair.
Putin can make sure that the upcoming elections are seen as legitimate. He also has reasons to do so, if he recognizes them.