Missing the mark

It happens with political speeches: all right stuff is there, properly arranged, and the speech is well written and presented.  And yet, it misses the mark.  Sometimes, this is because the audience was wrong; sometimes, because the timing was off.

President Medvedev’s annual address to the Federal Assembly, his fourth and the last, clearly falls in the latter category.  Had Medvedev delivered his speech on Nov. 12, 2009 – the day of his second presidential address and two months after publishing his once inspiring manifesto “Russia, forward!” — this speech could have become a turning point in the president’s attempts at modernizing the country’s political system.  Delivered on Dec. 22, 2011, the speech is likely to be considered as a mere footnote to Medvedev’s presidency.

The very scope of Medvedev’s proposals – the direct election of regional governors, simplified procedures for registration of political parties and parliamentary and presidential candidates – lends credit to his claim that they were prepared well in advance of the address.  However, by just stating that the current system “has exhausted itself,” Medvedev failed to explain why he had waited until he became a lame-duck president to come up with his proposals.  Was it by his own choice or was he simply not allowed to act by others?  Without such an explanation, Medvedev’s proposals look like a knee-jerk reaction to the mass protests that erupted after the Dec. 4 Duma elections, the protests that Medvedev unwisely called “foam” in his address.

But if the “disgruntled urban class” was the target of his overture, Medvedev has chosen the wrong audience, because the job of approving the presidential initiatives will fall on the 6th Duma, the legislative body considered illegitimate by the protest movement.

In Russia, the legal devil is not in the laws themselves, but in their implementation.  Sure, you can dramatically reduce – from 45,000 to 500 — the number of people required to register a political party.  However, if the very same bureaucrats in the Ministry of Justice will remain in charge of judging the “constitutionality” of any new political party’s charter – and, even more importantly, if the final decision on registration rests with the department of domestic politics of the presidential administration – then the new law on the registration of political parties will fail to create a free market of political ideas.  Sure, you can make regional governors be elected by direct public vote – whether with or without a prior “presidential filter.”  However, if a regional governor will have to beg Moscow for every ruble of taxes collected in the region, as is the case now, then he or she will remain the Kremlin’s appointee, whether publicly elected or not.

It’s not clear how successful Medvedev could have been in implementing his proposals.  Regardless, he’ll be gone in May, and even if he manages to become the next head of the Cabinet – a prospect that is far from certain – it won’t be his job to oversee the process of political reforms.  This job is likely to fall on Vladimir Putin, whose commitment to reforms – any reforms — is less than self-evident.  And let’s not forget that the “reforms” outlined in Medvedev’s address are in essence the reversal of legislations implemented during Putin’s second presidential term.  Therefore, until we clearly understand what Putin himself thinks about Medvedev’s proposals, nothing can be taken for granted.

And this is the most serious problem with Medvedev’s address: it might have been delivered by wrong person.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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10 Responses to Missing the mark

  1. Alex says:

    Merry X-mas, Eugene

    “…address have been delivered by wrong person.” . Indeed – this would have been better than a call for banderlogs.


  2. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, Alex! (The year of 2012 won’t be boring, that can be said for sure.)

    I don’t mind listening to Medvedev more: as you might have noticed, he’s my favorite in the tandem:) Yet, I suspect that he’ll give one more speech — the New Year Address — and that will be it for him. The January will be already all about March 4, and I don’t think people will be interested in Medvedev anymore. Unless, of course, he does something bold, like postponing the presidential election…


  3. zed244 says:

    ..or dismissing the Duma…

  4. …or, as Kudrin has suggested, calling for unscheduled Duma elections in one year — after allowing new political parties being registered…

  5. zed244 says:

    The problem is that he can only do something ‘brave’ now, not in one year.
    Hm.. I just pictured eg. VVP (if he won;t change his mind- which might be not a bad idea) in Dec. 2012 saying “Выполняя наказы нашего дорогого и любимого лидера Дмитрия Анатольевича …я издал Президентский Указ ..”)


  6. I wish I could picture what exactly VVP is thinking about these days…

  7. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    One must assume that these proposals were agreed in advance with Putin and that they have been in gestation for a long time. I suspect that the original idea was that they would be announced after the Duma elections and would then form the basis of the programme Putin would take to the Presidential elections on the promise that a Medvedev government would then implement them. Announcing them in this way was however in my opinion politically unwise and does make them look like a knee jerk reaction to the protests. Hopefully once the Presidential election is out of the way the focus will move back to these proposals. As it is the opposition’s indifference to these proposals suggests at least to me that constitutional change was never really a matter to which the opposition gave much priority despite its protestations to the contrary. As you say the devil is in the detail (as a former lawyer and legal draftsman I can tell you that it always is) and this is where a proper opposition should be doing its job by arguing the details thoroughly and making an impact.

    PS: I understand that Putin again said that he would appoint Medvedev his Prime Minister during his television question and answer session.

    PPS: I see that Surkov has been transferred away from dealing with political questions. It would be nice to think that Messrs. Putin and Medvedev read this blog!

  8. Dear Alexander,

    As I already noted on a different occasion, the fact that Putin doesn’t veto some of Medvedev’s decisions can’t be taken as evidence that he agrees with them. There are some substantial differences between the two. Putin talks about direct governor elections with “filters;” Medvedev doesn’t mention the “filters.” Putin made his disdain for multiparty system known long time ago. Medvedev’s proposals will likely result in the appearance of many small parties. I simply can’t imagine that these proposals were agreed upon between the two “in advance, long time ago.” Rather, for whatever reasons, Medvedev decided to go ahead with the proposals right now, and Putin, for whatever reasons, chose not to block them.

    I’m not sure whether the tandem operates any longer — or both men now play their separate games. Yes, Putin confirmed his intention to appoint Medvedev as prime minister — and knowing Putin, you can expect him holding his promise. Recent staff appointments seem to point in the same directions, too. The question is to what extent Putin controls the course of event — or, rather, the extent he will control them after the March elections. Regardless, Medvedev’s primary objective now is to define his future relations with United Russia. There appears to be a growing rift between them, and without explicit UR’s support of Medvedev, the latter has no chance — or at least, a reason — to become PM. My next post will touch upon this issue.


    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      Dear Eugene,

      I think there has been a misunderstanding obviously because I did not explain myself correctly. I was actually basically agreeing with your point that the devil is in the detail. My point is that if the opposition wants to do its job properly then it should do what a proper opposition does and that is campaign for the proposed changes to be real rather than cosmetic.

      Having said this I also think you are exaggerating the extent of the rifts in the tandem and I still think Medvedev will become Prime Minister unless there is a dramatic political change between now and May.

  9. Dear Alexander,

    To the contrary, I think we’re basically on the same page. As I said, Putin usually does what he promises. So if he promised to appoint Medvedev as prime minister, his “Plan A” will always be to deliver. The thing is how we interpret the “dramatic political change” you mention. I think we both agree that the situation in the country is different now from what it was in September — and the March election may even bring more changes.

    As for the opposition, I think that at the moment it’s only united by the idea of fraudulent Duma elections. The authorities — not the opposition — should address this. However, by taunting the opposition — by calling names, pointing to the lack of unity, platform or the leader — the authorities are actually inviting the protesters to unite, organize, or, worse, radicalize.


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