[credit provider=”Wikimedia Commons” url=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Valentina_Matviyenko.jpg”]
The election of Valentina Matviyenko to a St. Petersberg municipality has been widely reported as the first step in the former-governor of the city to the third most important position in the country, speaker of the Federation Council.Many publications (including us) have cast this as part of Matviyenko’s next step in her inevitable rise as Russia’s Margaret Thatcher. And it’s true, she has access to the nukes if Putin and Medvedev are incapacitated.
But the more nuanced take on the election comes in this great article by Julia Ioffe in Foreign Policy. The election is actually a sign of Matviyenko’s severe lack of popularity — and wider, is telling of a lack of true strength for United Russia.
A couple of key paragraphs:
The people in the mayor’s office are walking around with eyes like dinner plates,” said a St. Petersburg source with access to the polls. “United Russia is panicking.” Why? Because her polls mirror United Russia’s fall from public favour across the country. Kremlin polls are said to put the party’s average nationwide approval ratings at below 50 per cent. In St. Petersburg and other urban areas, it’s even lower, around 30 per cent.
This is bad. United Russia has big parliamentary elections coming up in December.Three months later, either Putin or Medvedev (probably the former) have to be swept convincingly into power, without too much outcry about election fraud. Matviyenko has the real potential to fumble the parliamentary elections in the second-most-important Russian city, and she is inexorably tied to her mentor, Putin. She simply had to go.