The Kremlin's Guide on How to Keep a Job

Regional leaders appear to be anxious about Sunday's presidential election, even though the outcome is all but set in stone. Perhaps it is because their jobs are on the line.

The Kremlin has asked governors to deliver voter turnout at least 65 percent, Moscow Times Staff Writer Francesca Mereu reported in Friday's issue. If the turnout is too low, election officials are ready to stuff ballot boxes with absentee ballots.

The Kremlin and regional authorities have denied plans to maximize turnout. But a senior election official and voters themselves said people have been pressured to cast absentee ballots at their workplaces or schools, thus allowing employers and professors to make sure that they vote.

What Kremlin proponents of sovereign democracy are seeking is the legitimacy that a high turnout would give to Dmitry Medvedev's victory. Anything less would cast a shadow over his win, they think.

What the Kremlin officials are forgetting is that the election will be questionable regardless of the outcome, with real opposition candidates denied the right to run and state-controlled media heavily biased in its campaign coverage.

Moreover, regional officials appear to be unaware that even Putin and his anointed heir have stopped pretending that the election is a real contest. For example, Putin used a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States last Friday to introduce Medvedev to the leaders of the other former Soviet republics. To circumvent protocol that a president must be flanked by his prime minister, if anyone, Friday's summit was designated as informal, and Medvedev took his place beside the president. Putin spoke as if Medvedev had already won. "We should not have and we will not have any revolutionary changes, specifically because Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] is a co-author of the [CIS] policy," Putin said.

In another break in protocol, Medvedev spoke for almost as long as Putin about his plans "if I win the election."

So why are governors scrambling to increase turnout? Perhaps part of governors' job description is to deliver votes and fulfill other Kremlin assignments that maintain the illusion that Russia is a democracy, leaving the Kremlin leadership to enjoy the benefits of this game of pretend without actually having to pretend.

Governors know what might happen if they fail to deliver. Smolensk Governor Viktor Maslov and Yaroslavl Governor Anatoly Lisitsyn had to step down after their regions posted lackluster results in the State Duma elections in December.

If the current trend continues, then one day the Kremlin will not even have to issue tacit orders on elections. Governors will scramble to fulfill whatever results are projected by opinion polls, especially those conducted by state-owned pollsters.

Perhaps this is the ultimate outcome that the Kremlin is seeking in Sunday's election.