Putin absent from debate stage ahead of Russian presidential election

World Today

Russians will head to the polls on March 18 to select their next president. Television debates are being held with the candidates, but the most powerful is refusing to take part.

CGTN’s Jessica King reports.
Follow Jessica King on Twitter @JessLSKing

There are eight candidates running in Russia’s presidential election, including President Vladimir Putin, who is widely expected to win. In the run-up to the vote on March 18, they have the opportunity to present their policies and ideas in TV and radio debates.

Absent from those forums, however, is candidate Putin.

Tuesday night was the start of election campaigning, with a 40 minute long state TV broadcast. Candidates focused on Russia’s military and defense, and any perceived threats the country faces.

The nationalist All-Russian People’s Union tried to play to audience nostalgia, saying it missed the days when girls dreamed about marrying a military officer, while also describing what members believe is the West’s desire to “destroy Russian spirit.”

On the opposite end of the political spectrum was Ksenia Sobchak, who is positioning herself as the liberal alternative. The former reality TV star said she was angry that Putin decided not to be part of the debates, and said she had plenty of questions for him, including on the alleged activities of Russian military contractors in Syria.

In another debate in Vladivostok on Wednesday, there were clashes between Sobchak and Vladimir Zhirinovsky from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Their sparring ended up with accusations of sexual harassment within Zhirinovsky’s party.

Over the next three weeks, there will be more opportunities to see what these candidates stand for, as they discuss the economy, jobs, healthcare and other domestic and foreign issues.

But many will be disappointed that Putin himself is not there, either to defend his record or face any of his opposition.