Friday, 8 February 2008

Medvedev the calm at centre of presidential storm

To maintain the theme of sporting analogies for presidential elections, if the US presidential contest is the World Cup, the Russian equivalent is some manner of professional wrestling bout. The winner has been pre-ordained since Dimitry Medvedev received the United Russia nomination in early December. Whatever the discrepancies in competiveness between the two elections, the Russian winner will have scarcely less geo-political clout as the world’s largest country continues to exert increasing influence strategically and economically.

Medvedev has so far been engaged in a low key campaign. Following the template created by Vladimir Putin in 2004, United Russia’s candidate seems to regard conventional electioneering as beneath his dignity. As such he has been eschewing stormy television debates featuring the other candidates. Medvedev therefore avoided becoming embroiled in clashes between Democratic Party candidate Andrei Bogdanov who expressed his hopes that Russia might join the European Union and Vladimir Zhirinovksy of the nationalist LDP, who maintained that the West is a perpetual enemy of Russia and should remain so.

Relative newcomer Bogdanov is already a controversial figure and has been at the centre of allegations that his inclusion in the poll is a Kremlin ruse designed to manage the liberal democratic vote (in the sense of western liberal values, nothing to do with Zhirinovsky’s confusingly named party). The Union of Right Forces (SPS) and Yabloko are parties with western democratic leanings which failed to make the poll. Mikhail Kasyanov, whose candidacy for the Other Russia coalition was disallowed after 13% of the two million signatures which he was required to collect in order to run were said to be forged by the authorities, has cast aspersions on the methods by which Bogdanov acquired his quota.

Completing this triumvirate of notional competitors, Gennady Zyuganov has failed to follow through on threats to boycott the election. The Communist Party candidate favours focussing on close ties with ex Soviet states in the near abroad. His brooding television advert features the ex-Soviet functionary advancing through a dark, grey corridor before emerging into a bright (communist) future. Each candidate is entitled to these election broadcasts, screened free of charge.

Despite the air-time allotted to opposition parties so far, the OSCE have declined to monitor the election, claiming that severe restrictions have made such a mission impracticable. Acrimony dating from December’s Duma poll seems to have effected the OSCE’s decision. Russia had given visas for 70 monitors to observe proceedings from a fortnight before the election took place.

Meanwhile at the centre of the storm, Medvedev addresses sanguine meetings of special interest groups with a series of serene, poised speeches. Whatever the doubts of western observers it cannot be ignored that Medvedev has adopted a very different form of rhetoric to his predecessor. It remains to be seen whether he will affect real change and oversee a new period of openness (or glasnost to use the Russian word) during his tenure, but it seems unlikely he would feel that he had to use this language if there were not some substance behind the sentiment.

In a meeting to discuss environmental matters at the Kremlin Medvedev spoke in relatively progressive fashion. Although we are accustomed to politicians playing lip-service to environmental matters, in Russia such issues do not attract widespread concern and Medvedev is not consciously courting publicity. Once again his arguments are couched in the language of law. Medvedev constantly emphasises the need for Russia to become a law-based society. This is the central plank of his campaign oratory so far and it seems improbable that he does not aspire to actually effect changes in this area. In the statement of rationale which fronts his webpage Medvedev explicitly challenges the Putinite concepts of ‘sovereign’ or ‘managed’ democracy.

“Today we are building new institution based on the fundamental principles of full democracy. This democracy requires no additional definition”
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1 comment:

Dinamo said...
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