Zubkov’s Rating Rise After a Week
Published: September 21, 2007 (Issue # 1308)
The news that Viktor Zubkov had been promoted to the job of prime minister caught kremlinologists by surprise. But according to a recent poll, the former head of the Federal Financial Monitoring Service who was hitherto an obscure figure to most ordinary Russians, is already enjoying a staggering approval rating. Forty percent of St. Petersburgers polled by the Agency for Social Information on Sept.14-16 said they trusted Zubkov. By comparison, Sergei Mironov, head of the Council of Federation, is trusted by 36.9 percent of respondents, and State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov enjoys a 41.1 percent trust rating.
The same poll shows that 53 percent of those questioned hold a positive opinion about the efficiency of former prime minister Mikhail Fradkov’s government. At the same time, 50.3 percent of respondents reacted positively to Viktor Zubkov’s appointment as the new prime minister. Only 12 percent of those polled were negative about Zubkov’s promotion.
“The high trust in Zubkov demonstrated by so many people was not built on any knowledge about his activities,” said Roman Mogilevsky, head of the Agency for Social Information. “Rather, it is a sign of how impressive is the trust in President Putin, the man behind the appointment. The high rating really refers to the mechanism of appointment itself.”
Maria Matskevich, a senior researcher with the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said embarrassment among political analysts and pundits over Zubkov’s appointment was enormous.
“Not a single kremlinologist had ever mentioned his name in any forecasts. Putin’s move shows that decision-making process in Russia is not the slightest bit transparent,” Matskevich said. “The analysts do not have enough information about those who govern us to be able to predict their next possible steps. Those forecasts we do get are rapidly losing their credibility.”
But what some analysts find frustrating, their counterpart Valentin Bianki, a researcher in political psychology at St. Petersburg State University, attempts to interpret as Putin’s “political flexibility.”
“When Putin appointed Anatoly Serdyukov as Russian Defense Minister six months ago, the president apparently had not thought of putting [Serdyukov’s father-in law] Viktor Zubkov forward as prime minister; it would not have been logical,” Bianki said. “Yes, the figure of Zubkov seems to destroy the popular theory of some sort of secret plot to transfer power and indicates that important decisions can be made spontaneously in Russia. But this can only be a positive symptom.”
Zubkov’s sky-high ratings have prompted some critics to recall a sarcastic 2003 event mounted during the gubernatorial election campaign in St. Petersburg. Pedestrians crossing Anichkov Bridge, which has statues of men straining to hold prancing horses on its four corners, were asked whether they would elect a horse if the president so requested it. They were invited to vote by putting an orange ball into one of two transparent containers. The container marked “yes” ended up twice as full as the one marked “no.”
That performance alluded to ancient Roman history. Roman Emperor Caligula is said to have entered the Senate on his favorite racehorse, Incitatus, and made every senator give a deep bow to honor the animal. The despotic emperor is said to have even considered making the horse a consul.
The street demo also alluded to a televised meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Valentina Matviyenko, who was at the time his envoy in the Northwest Federal District, and the frontrunner for governor. At the meeting the president gave Matviyenko his blessing in the election.
Matskevich points out that Putin’s 70-percent approval rating, as well suggesting high approval for his government reshuffles, shows that the vast majority of Russians are happy with the existing ruling system.
“Everyone had to swallow the fact that nobody except for the president knows what is going to happen, and the president’s mind is inscrutable,” she said. “The problem is that this situation does not have anything to do with democracy. Worse, this is not a problem with Vladimir Putin personally, it has to do with people’s attitude, a predominant public inertia, when the majority finds it comfortable not to burden themselves with responsibility for political decisions that would affect their lives.”
A series of recent nationwide polls have shown that over one third of Russians intend not to take part in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in December. Between 60 and 80 percent of respondents, depending on their region of residence feel that their vote “is not going to influence anything.”
But political analyst Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the political council of the local branch of opposition party Yabloko, argues that although many people are hiding behind that phrase, there is no need for such a feeling in Russia.
“Just look twenty years back, and you will see that ordinary Russians are perfectly capable of changing things,” he said.