There are different ways to treat
Saturday’s massive protest action in Moscow called to challenge the results of the obviously rigged Dec. 4 Duma elections. The members and supporters of the United Russia party accused the opposition in “splitting the society with the purpose of weakening the country.” Irina Yarovay, a member of the United Russia General Council, went as far as to call the demonstration on the Bolotnaya Square a result of the “information aggression” against Russia, launched by the West in order to destabilize the country. Although using modern terminology (“information aggression,” “psychological manipulation” and such), Yarovaya adheres to the style of the Pravda editorials covering the notorious trials of “the enemies of the people” back in 1937. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Yarovaya, a former prosecutor, still reads them for inspiration.
Others — and I subscribe myself to this group — consider the Saturday meeting a historic event, perhaps a turning point in Russia’s painful democratic development.
The Kremlin’s initial reaction was to simply ignore the event. They apparently concluded that by allowing the meeting on the Bolotnay Square to proceed and ordering the police not to interfere, they could close the topic and move on.
This would be a mistake. In play is not only the composition of the next Duma, an important issue of its own; at stake is a level of trust that the citizens of Russia have in their elected representatives. This is especially relevant given that in less than 3 months, Russia will have the all-important presidential election. Does anyone in the Kremlin believe that by March 4, the current protest mood will disappear?
From this perspective, President Dmitry Medvedev’s promise to launch an investigation into allegations of election fraud is a step in the right direction. A few concerns still remain, though. Sure, no one expected Medvedev to deliver a televised presidential address to the nation from the Kremlin’s Georgian Hall. Yet, the format of a Facebook message that Medvedev chose as a venue for his announcement does strike me as a bit “casual.” A short interview with a couple of Kremlin-friendly journalists would have been more appropriate, allowing Medvedev appear both presidential and humane.
Worse, Medvedev didn’t outline the scope, timeline and the deliverables of the investigation. If all he has in mind is picking up a few carefully selected “irregularities” and sending them to the Magician-in-Chief, the Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov for a “legal” opinion, then Medvedev’s initiative is simply a waste of time.
But the real problem is that Medvedev has an obvious conflict of interest: the election fraud has clearly benefited United Russia, the party whose electoral list Medvedev himself led to the Dec. 4 elections. If the investigation is associated with Medvedev’s name, few will believe that the president’s goal is to perform his job as the guarantor of the Constitution. Instead, the perception will be that he’s trying to clean up the mess created by his subordinates.
What Medvedev could — and should! — do is to create an independent commission to investigate the election fraud. This commission should be composed of prominent public figures, including members of the protest movement, and individuals with election monitoring experience. The commission should be given exceptional authority to subpoena all election officials, beginning with Churov. Even more importantly, Medvedev should make it clear to everyone that his objective is to get to the bottom of this issue and punish every single official — no matter how highly-ranked — found involved in the violation of election law.
The creation of such a commission could help Medvedev preserve at least part of his legacy as a liberal member of the disappearing tandem. And who knows, it may even lay a foundation for the future — if Medvedev will ever reincarnate himself as presidential material.
Some would argue that simply creating a commission wouldn’t achieve much. But it would be so fitting for Medvedev’s presidency: a series of baby steps in the right direction.