Why Putin Even Cares About the Numbers

This Sunday Vladimir Putin will win his fourth term as Russian president. Shocking, I know. One of the only uncertainties ahead of the vote is whether the Kremlin will hit its target of a 70 percent result for Putin with 70 percent turnout. But why does Putin care about these numbers? Isn’t he going to win no matter what? Won’t he remain the near-Tsar of today’s Russia no matter how many people vote for him, or don’t? Yes and yes. But…


Elections in Russia are not an exercise in democratic accountability but a test of legitimacy — a regular assessment of how good the Kremlin is at shaping a particular narrative about Putin, and the ability of the “system” to reflect it. The Kremlin will be keen to see if local political and economic bosses are able to get out the vote without ham-fistedly messing with the tallies in a way that invites protests.

This kind of test matters because in fact Russia’s political system is a lot messier than you’d think. Personal relationships and opaque power networks are often more important than formal procedures, parties, and laws. At the center of it all is a kind of spell — if everyone believes that the system is holding together, then so it is. In a somewhat paradoxical way, the basic tool of democracy — elections — are the best way to gauge the effectiveness of that rather undemocratic spell.

What happens if the Kremlin falls dramatically short of the 70/70? Nothing immediately. After all, Putin will still comfortably win the election. But it would sow an unwelcome seed of doubt about Putin’s ability to continually master the theater of Russia’s politics. Is the old man slipping? If so, do power elites who are oriented towards him start, privately, to consider an alternative? All of this matters even more now given that the moment Putin wins, speculation will begin about what he plans to do when his next term expires in 2024, and the constitution bars him from running again. We’ll tackle that question in more detail next Tuesday.

This month, a bipartisan group of legislators in Washington state presented new legislation that could soon become the most comprehensive privacy law in the country. The centerpiece of this legislation, the Washington Privacy Act as substituted, goes further than the landmark bill California recently enacted and builds on the law Europeans have enjoyed for the past year and a half.

As Microsoft President Brad Smith shared in his blog post about our priorities for the state of Washington's current legislative session, we believe it is important to enact strong data privacy protections to demonstrate our state's leadership on what we believe will be one of the defining issues of our generation. People will only trust technology if they know their data is private and under their control, and new laws like these will help provide that assurance.

Read more here.

Let's be clear— the Middle East peace plan that the US unveiled today is by no means fair. In fact, it is markedly more pro-Israel than any that have come before it.

But the Trump administration was never aiming for a "fair" deal. Instead, it was pursuing a deal that can feasibly be implemented. In other words, it's a deal shaped by a keen understanding of the new power balances within the region and globally.

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Betty Liu, Executive Vice Chairman for NYSE Group, explains:

Do election years have an impact on the markets?

So, the short answer is it depends. There's lots of factors that affect the markets, right. But there are some trends. So, the S&P has had its best performance in the year before elections and the second-best performance on election year. Now since 1928, we've had 23 election years and the S&P has had negative returns only four times in that duration.

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For months now, the US has been lobbying countries around the world to ban the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the 5G data networks that are going to power everything from your cell phone, to power grids, to self-driving cars. US security hawks say allowing a Chinese company to supply such essential infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to steal sensitive data or even sabotage networks. On the other hand, rejecting Huawei could make 5G more expensive. It also means angering the world's second-largest economy.

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The end of the interim in Bolivia? – Mere months after taking over as Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Áñez has decided that "interim" isn't quite permanent enough, and she now wants to run for president in elections set for May 3. Áñez is an outspoken conservative who took over in October when mass protests over election fraud prompted the military to oust the long-serving left-populist Evo Morales. She says she is just trying to unify a fractious conservative ticket that can beat the candidate backed by Morales' party. (Morales himself is barred from running.) Her supporters say she has the right to run just like anyone else. But critics say that after promising that she would serve only as a caretaker president, Áñez's decision taints the legitimacy of an election meant to be a clean slate reset after the unrest last fall. We are watching closely to see if her move sparks fresh unrest in an already deeply polarized country.

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