Putin gets investor votes to continue to wield power

Sep 27 | Updated: Sep 28 2007, 07:53am hrs
Investors are already casting their votes on who will wield power after Russian President Vladimir Putin steps down next year. The winner: Vladimir Putin.

Russia's benchmark Micex Index has risen 6.7% since September 12, the day the president unexpectedly named Viktor Zubkov, a 66-year-old financial regulator, prime minister. The move instantly made Zubkov a potential successor when Putin's term expires in March - while convincing many observers that the 54-year-old incumbent intends to keep a guiding role from behind the scenes.

The prospect pleases the financial community, which is still haunted by memories of the economic and political chaos during the immediate post-Soviet period under Boris Yeltsin.

"The most successful economic transitions have happened in countries with stability and strong leaders who have remained for 20 years, not two terms,'' said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib Financial Corp. in Moscow. Weafer cited the Communist Party's continued hold on power in China as an example.

Putin, who is overseeing an economic boom now in its ninth year, scores popularity ratings above 80% in public- opinion polls. While the constitution bars him from running for a third consecutive four-year term, he has hinted he might seek re-election in 2012.

He might also try to return earlier by getting the new president to resign, triggering snap elections, according to Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst from the Moscow-based INDEM research organization.

Investors have seen the value of publicly traded Russian stocks increase by $1 trillion since Putin came to power, and want him to stay around, said Roland Nash, head of research at Renaissance Capital in Moscow. "Putin is seen as a guarantor of the status quo,'' Nash said in an interview.

The scenario of a strong Putin behind a weak president gained more currency on Sept. 14, two days after the Zubkov appointment, when the president told a group of Western experts on Russia that he would retain "influence'' after 2008. That, he said, is "a factor that the new president will have to deal with.'' Analysts say Putin might take over as leader of the ruling United Russia party or head a security council with broad powers.