I find the draft being very strong document. No, I don’t share the awe expressed by United Russia’s Boris Gryzlov who described it as “a comprehensive plan outlining…the major objectives and principles of Russia’s development.” At the same time, I disagree with Kommersant’s Dmitry Butrin who trashed Putin’s election program for being less inspiring than Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. I’d argue that Messrs. Putin and King had completely different objectives for their respective products.
In my opinion, Putin’s election program is strong because it does what any election program is supposed to do: to appeal directly to the candidate’s core electorate. Putin’s document is attractive to the people who expect the state taking care of everything in their lives (hospitals, schools, day care centers, apartments, hot water, salaries, pensions, families, children, and their own souls); to the people who want “results,” not explanations of how these results will be achieved; to the people who’re bored with numbers and prefer instead Putin’s “action verbs:” “we will actively defend” (people’s morality from the mass media assault), “we will develop mechanisms” (of financial stimulation of the regions), “we will strengthen” (the state support of families with children), “we will bring order” (into housing and utility sector), “we will perfect” (the system of distribution of budget money), “we will guarantee” (free medical care in state hospitals).
The program confirms what we always knew or strongly suspected: Putin considers governing as a direct interaction between federal power in Moscow and ordinary citizens elsewhere. In this arrangement, there is almost no need for regional and municipal authorities, which are barely mentioned in the document. There is definitely no need for the Duma, political parties or civil organizations: those got no single note in the draft.
The program also confirms my long-held conviction that there is an ideological difference between Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev: whereas Medvedev thinks that Russia’s economic modernization ought to be accompanied by political reforms, Putin sees no virtue in this. He seems to believe that modernization can be achieved solely by increasing the efficiency of the state bureaucracy. We will strengthen, we will perfect…
It appears almost surreal, but the program doesn’t even mention the political reforms recently proposed by President Medvedev, the reforms some of which Putin, at least in public, has grudgingly accepted.
Sure, Putin knows that his “majority” sees no need in political reforms. At the same time, he can’t afford simply ignoring the issue of reforms given the growing demand for change in the aftermath of the Dec. 4 Duma elections.
And this is where the meaning of the term “draft” apparently comes to play. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Putin was still working on the final draft of the program. The expected date of the delivery is “before Feb. 12,” which comes remarkably close to the day of the next protest action scheduled on Feb. 4.
Fully aware that his reaction to the protesters’ demands is closely monitored, Putin seems to be trying to buy some time. Should the protest movement begin losing steam or show signs of cracks under the weight of internal squabbles – with both scenarios being highly likely – Putin will find few reasons to follow-up on the promises of his predecessor. On the contrary, if the organizers of the protests manage to bring more people to the streets of Moscow on Feb. 4 than they did in December – a possibility that can’t be discounted, either – Putin may have no other choice as to call for further political reforms in his “updated” program.
This is a gamble. And as with any gamble, one can win big or lose.