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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: Putin’s election

Securing the presidential office for another six years with his victory on Sunday, Vladmir V. Putin has led Russia since 2000 with or without the support of his people. Putin’s 64.7 percent win was neither a marginal nor an unbelievable one. And while most Russians subscribe to the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Putin does seem poised to face greater opposition from his country than in eras past.

As a young person with a narrower outlook than, say, an older person, I often forget the handbook description of any president’s job. There is indeed more to it than having a perfectly toned, philanthropic wife, or a drawer full of patriotic head shots.

Leadership is really what you make of it, and currently I believe our dear President Obama is not making much ado about it. He continues to surprise us all with the flaccidity of his 2012 campaign. And the proverbial limp or stutter he has recently acquired is especially evident in Russia’s political narrative. While President Obama may be content with avoiding confrontation in an election year, others like Putin will grab the opportunity and squeeze.

Under Putin’s reign, the Russian economy grew nine straight years, seeing GDP increase by 72 percent, poverty decrease more than 50 percent and average monthly salaries increase from $80 to $640.

Analysts credit these mass improvements to his focus on macroeconomic management, specifically critical fiscal policy reforms, capital inflows, high oil prices and access to low-cost external financing.

Significant improvements in living standards and Russia’s reassertion of itself on the world scene are perhaps the two greatest reasons people recognize Putin as a consistent front-runner.

All stories with silver linings have dark clouds, though. A day after claiming triumph in Russia, Putin on Monday faced a range of challenges to his legitimacy, including charges of fraud from international observers and defiant opposition that vowed to keep him from serving his full six-year term.
Most critics cite his overwhelming favoritism in the media and use of government funds to support his campaign as evidence of an unfair win.

The police said 150 people were detained during a protest in Moscow, with another 300 arrested after another in St. Petersburg.

Our State Department, however, fawned over the elections, neither condemning nor rejecting the results as invalid. The only form of hand slapping we witnessed is a sort of mealy-mouthed whimper, “We urge the Russian Government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations … We urge Russian authorities to build on these steps to ensure that the procedures for future elections will be more transparent.”
President Obama seems to be under the impression that if he continues to sit back in the Oval Office, privately pointing and laughing at his Republican opponents’ constant follies, all will be well in Washington. He won’t dare, in these months leading up to November, make a move radical enough to divert attention from conservatives.
Our president did not have any qualms basically calling Putin a troglodyte back in 2009 when Obama remarked, “The Cold War approach to U.S.-Russian relationships is outdated.”

But “why bask in any light when I can hide in the shadows?” President Obama seems to think and is certainly demonstrating by now refusing to intervene in Russia’s politics.

He knows he is — and worse, is satisfied with being — America’s default choice for the 2012 elections. No other candidate strictly numbers-wise, besides maybe Mitt Romney, has shown a consistently combative offense for the presidency. And President Obama is very well aware of how strong his incumbency looks against others’ campaigns, just as Putin understood he was the only viable, stable candidate.

What’s less acceptable than this complacency is the sheer lack of leadership from our supposed leaders. When they do choose to take a stand, however, it always seems to be for the wrong, extreme thing.

Someone, anyone, needs to take ownership of the world’s ultimate and most important job, the President of the United States. In the meantime, both our foes and repressed people around the globe will see that our unwillingness to stand up to bullies is an excuse for not only avoiding aggressive regimes, but also for fleeing from the sorry face staring back in the mirror.

CHELSEA MEHRA is trying to become better versed in politics, so contact her at cmehra@ucdavis.edu with any thoughts.


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