MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)

The start of the new political season this fall is marked by the parliamentary elections next year and the looming presidential race, which is to culminate in 2008.
In fact, the race will begin this fall, but it may prove to be a false start for those who underestimate the potential of seemingly promising candidates. So here is a survey of top Russian politicians, their electoral standing and public ranking.
Vladimir Putin is not going to amend the constitution to run for a third term. This does not suit a substantial part of the Russian elite, which will have to bank on other leaders. They fear making a bad mistake since the official successor has not been named so far.
Putin’s refusal to violate the constitution is distorting the electoral picture. According to the Public Opinion pollster (FOM), 50% would vote for him if the election were held today. The runners-up are Liberal Democrat Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov (5% each), whereas First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, considered to be one of the possible candidates, would only get 2% of the vote.
The situation is different when Putin is removed from the poll. A survey conducted by the Levada Center shows that there seem to be four leaders: Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov, who have been trying their luck since the 1990s, as well as Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Medvedev and Zhirinovsky got 10% of the total number of the respondents. Of those who said they would come to the ballot stations in 2008 and have already chosen their candidate, 22% favor Medvedev, 20% Zhirinovsky, 17% Zyuganov, and 16% Ivanov.
So the voters, who are not very active in Russia now and do not follow political events closely, have got the president’s message: Dmitry Medvedev is a potential successor.
The rating of the first deputy prime minister responsible for priority national projects, which promise higher living standards, has been growing all year. Initially, it was boosted by Putin’s support and powerful information backing. Medvedev has become a TV fixture and is handling problems that concern ordinary people, whereas his rival, Sergei Ivanov, deals mostly with security-related issues.
The election day is still far away, and even a top rating can be undermined by failure. However, Medvedev has a fair chance of remaining the race leader.
However, readiness to vote for a candidate does not amount to a high level of trust, which is a purely Russian paradox of the people’s political psychology. Although the above four politicians are near the top of the trust rating lists, according to the FOM, Levada Center and the VTsIOM pollster, there are not the leaders.
Political showman Zhirinovsky and Emergencies Minister Sergey Shoigu, who successfully uses his image of a “rescue ranger”, have the highest trust rating (apart from Putin). The people still trust Communist leader Zyuganov, and the ranking of Medvedev and Ivanov is comparable.
According to the Levada Center, Ivanov is ahead of Medvedev, whereas the FOM survey shows that Medvedev is leading, and VTsIOM gives 8% to both men.
Trust is a highly specific notion in Russia. Russians trust Putin because they see no one else they can trust and are tired of politics. As many as 39% of the respondents polled by the Levada Center said the federal political elite was more interested in keeping their positions than improving the situation in the country. Only 1% of the respondents were confident that they influenced politics and the economy, and 25% said they did not want this kind of influence. We can therefore discuss trust in politicians only in very relative terms.
Social scientists say that the people will trust and vote for the man appointed by the president. The only problem is that the “appointment” should be formulated as clearly as possible, because the voters do not understand subtle hints. -0-