|Brash and outspoken, Zhirinovsky (right) says that Russia should ‘for [ethnic] Russians’ [EPA]|
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the founder and leader of the right-wing nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LPDR), will be running in his fifth presidential election, this time under the banner “Vote Zhirinovsky, or it will get worse”.
The right-wing leader is known for his outspoken style and inflammatory statements. In the past, he has supported retaking Alaska from the United States, deploying tactical nuclear weapons against targets in Chechnya, deporting all Chinese migrant workers from Russia’s Far East and referred to citizens from the Ural region as “retarded” .
In past presidential campaigns, he has promised that vodka and lingerie would be freely available to all citizens. He has engaged in physical fights with rivals after debates and in parliament. During his 2008 campaign, he released footage of himself shooting a rifle at targets representing his fellow candidates.
In his current presidential run, Zhirinovsky has called for the Russian president to be replaced by a ceremonial head of state, to be called a “tsar”, and for the powers currently concentrated in the presidency to be handed over to the legislature, or State Duma.
“The State Duma must form the government and, like in all European countries, the leader of the parliamentary majority must be appointed the chairman of the government. And the head of state will be elected at the parliament session and for just one term of five years,” he wrote in a February 1 article for the Izvestia newspaper.
Zhirinovsky has argued that Russia should be a state for those deemed to be ethnic Russians, rather than a multicultural country, and that this “should be reflected in the country’s constitution, textbooks and national history”.
In his latest campaign, he has drawn a direct link between immigrant workers and increased rates of drug abuse and criminal activity.
“The situation in the health, criminal and social sectors is directly related to the chaos in the immigration policy,” he has said.
Zhirinovsky, 65, was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. After gaining degrees from the department of Turkish studies and in law at Moscow State University, he worked in several positions associated with trade unions, foreign affairs and in the legal sector.
He founded the LDPR in 1990, after the liberalisation of Russian politics. He was fiercely opposed to the Communist Party’s leadership, but also opposed the break-up of the Soviet Union.
His first breakthrough in politics came in the 1991 presidential election, when he placed third in the first such poll in the country’s history, with 7.8 per cent of the vote. That election was won by Boris Yeltsin, of the Democratic Party of Russia, with Nikolai Ryzhkov, of the Communist Party, placing second.
In addition to running for the presidency three times since then, Zhirinovsky has had a seat in the parliament since 1993, and currently serves as the vice-chairman of the parliament, or Duma.
He is currently the chairman of his party, which positions itself as the representatives of the “true patriots of Russia”, and it currently holds 11.67 per cent of seats.
The LDPR is the oldest opposition party in the country, though being right-wing and nationalist it does not tend to meet most of the criteria for a “liberal democratic” party.
“The basis of national public policy should be based on the principle: what is good for the [ethnic] Russian is good for the whole of Russia. The Russian people should be recognized as the backbone of the state. The destruction of the Russian people entails a loss to other nations and nationalities living in Russia,” reads the party’s manifesto.
The party has called for the suspension of all grant aid to foreign countries and for the defence industry to remain under direct government control. It has sought widespread anti-corruption measures, and wants Russian food security to be protected by export and import bans on agricultural products.
The LDPR also wants to introduce “a state monopoly on the manufacture and sale of alcohol, tobacco and sugar”, according to the party’s website.
Zhirinovsky is known for championing such issues, particularly those regarding foreign policy. His brash style, however, often ends up alienating as many voters as he wins over. The LDPR leader has been barred from entering Germany, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, and has been expelled from Bulgaria, for his past comments regarding those countries.
Zhirinovsky, who has been called everything from a “fascist” to a “clown”, has never finished higher than third in a presidential election (1991 and 2008), finishing fifth the other two times that he ran.
Currently, polls predict that he will win between five and ten per cent of the vote, putting him in third behind Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader who is polling at around 15 per cent, and Vladimir Putin, the frontrunner for the presidency and current prime minister, who has been polling at more than 50 per cent.
He has dismissed protests against Putin’s government as “open attempts to organise an ‘orange revolution’ in our country”, referring to the widespread 2005 protests that led to the fall of the Ukrainian government. Putin has criticised the protests by making the same comparison.