Friday, 30 September 2011

Russia's presidential saga resolved as Duma election takes a familiar shape.

Last Saturday a lengthy political saga finally came to an end at United Russia’s conference in Moscow.  Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin announced that the latter will contest next year’s Russian Presidential election.  This resolves the “will he or won’t he” speculation about President Medvedev seeking a second term in office.

There will, of course, be many Russian liberals who see this decision as a fatal blow to Russia’s democracy.  There will also be a chorus of “we told you so”s from commentators hostile to the Kremlin who always maintained that Medvedev’s presidency was a sham.  

Their arguments have some force, but they’re very far from the full picture.  

The President has defended his decision to step aside and let Putin contest the election, observing that the Prime Minister is Russia’s “most authoritative” leader.  

The Russian public has consistently expressed its preference for Putin, ahead of Medvedev, where polls gave a choice between the two men.  Alexei Levinson, from the Levada Institute, runs through the figures on Open Democracy.

Another switch of positions between Medvedev and Putin hardly suggests flourishing political competition, but it is broadly reflective of the will of the Russian people.  Russia will end up with the President whom a majority wishes to fill the post. 

Earlier in the year I mentioned the thesis of Richard Sakwa’s book, The Crisis of Russian Democracy.  Sakwa argues that the competitive element in Russian politics is subsumed within the administrative system but he also maintains that the ‘constitutional’ aspect of Russian politics holds the worst excesses of the unelected ‘administrative regime’ in check.

He can’t be re-examining his theory with any undue concern this week.  The competitive element seems more than evident after the liberalising Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, was forced to step down, when he expressed unwillingness to serve under the new arrangements.  And the fact that Putin felt obliged to observe the letter of the Russian constitution, before launching his comeback, emphasises that proprieties hold some force.

Witness the Kremlin’s efforts, now in disarray, to establish the market-friendly party Right Cause as a contender in December’s State Duma elections.  Sakwa has a fascinating article in OD explaining how the leadership of billionaire, Mikhail Prokhorov, has fallen apart.

Only months ago Right Cause was being touted as a pro-Medvedev, liberal alternative to Putinite United Russia.  Now Prokhorov has been ousted, Right Cause is in a mess and Medvedev has stepped aside to give Putin a free run.

There is a justifiable degree of scepticism about the independence of the parties which can realistically challenge for seats in the State Duma; whether it’s Just Russia or even Zhirinovsky’s LDPR, but although United Russia is dominant, the party isn’t allowed to hold a monopoly of power and both Putin and Medvedev remain a step removed from it.   

That’s just another small reason why the “Putinism = the new Stalinism” editorials which graced many papers on Monday morning seem so hysterically shrill. 

So we move towards an election in December that will be viewed effectively as a plebiscite on the inverted Putin – Medvedev tandem which will surely follow the presidential contest in March.  It's all a little familiar, given the equivalent contest in 2007.    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I enjoyed this webpage publish. I found this internet site using AOL search, and unquestionably enjoyed reading over it, so I am going to in all probability come by once more soon also study on what's new Great Article!

As a final note , let me thank you for your tolerance with my English as (I'm persuaded you have become aware this by now,), English is not my principal language as a result I am using Google Translate to form out what to record what I truly want to voice.