The Draft

On Thursday, Russia’s leading presidential candidate, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, launched his campaign website and used it to unveil a draft of his election program.

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.

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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6 Responses to The Draft

  1. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    I agree with all of this. I would merely say that yet again what it shows is the importance of a responsible opposition. If they insist on the importance of the political reforms then the burden is on them to campaign for them to be kept at the centre of attention.

    PS: Further to the comment in your last post, I have now better understood your reference to the disastrous consequences in Russian history of a government being unresponsive to calls for reform. However again on the principle of seeing the glass half full where you see it half empty it seems to me that the government is being quite responsive. Surely what the opposition now needs to do is to campaign vigorously for its proposed reforms avoiding the binary and at times even apocalyptic language to which it seems to be altogether too prone and understanding that this sort of language is actually counterproductive in that whilst there may be a constituency in the country for reform there is none for revolution which is what this sort of language seems to threaten.

  2. Eugene says:

    Dear Alexander,

    I think we can always agree that there is some water in the glass:)

    I feel we shouldn’t mix together two separate phenomena. One is “opposition” — regardless of how we define it. Yes, I’d agree that the authorities are slowly responding to their demands. The bill on direct elections of governors is definitely a step in the right direction (although I never was a great fan of this idea). The new rules on party registration are nowhere seen at the moment, and the UR Duma faction has already expressed some misgivings about Medvedev’s plan. (However unlikely this might sound, I side with UR, not Medvedev here.)

    But much greater problem is the existence of apparently hundreds of thousands of middle-class urbanites who believe — rightfully or wrongfully — that their civil rights have been violated by the rigged Duma election. Besides, they have all the reasons to believe that the presidential election will be rigged too. Nothing — I repeat, nothing — has been done by the Kremlin to address THEIR concerns. And I strongly believe that there is one thing that is worse than the lack of opposition; it’s illegitimate power.

    Putin’s strategy seems to be to get elected in the first round of the vote no matter what and then face the protests hoping that sooner or later they will stop. Sure, Putin has all the means to know something I don’t. But if my analysis of the situation — combined with what I hear from Russia — is correct, the political awakening in Russia is past the point of no return. I thus consider Putin’s approach unsustainable and even dangerous.

    Best,
    Eugene

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      Dear Eugene,

      This is where I think there is a disagreement between us.

      I cannot agree with you that the Kremlin has done nothing to address the concerns of the “hundreds of thousands who believe rightly or wrongly that their civil rights were violated by the rigged Duma elections”. The Kremlin has tried to address these concerns by installing cameras in polling stations and by ordering transparent ballot boxes, proposals which have received no discussion even though they are in my opinion potentially more dangerous than the allegations of ballot rigging themselves because of the way they could potentially compromise the secrecy of the ballot. Given the concern there is in Russia about so called “administrative pressure” on voters the potential for trouble is obvious. I am pretty sure by the way that in time once the reason for these measures has been forgotten they will be cited as further evidence in the west that Russian elections are not free and fair.

      There has also been an investigation of the allegations of vote rigging that has apparently detected 3,000 cases of voting violations. One can be cynical about this investigation (I am) but the trouble is that the opposition has shown no interest in it. Incidentally I understand that the one independent investigation that was carried out into the allegations of election fraud in Moscow by Vedomosti which involved checking the actual results in actual polling stations (as opposed to trying to draw inferences from mathematical models) did not in the end come up with compelling evidence of widespread fraud.

      For the rest as I have previously said for the government to engineer Churov’s removal or for it to concede the demand for a rerun of the elections whether now or in a year’s time would seriously risk provoking the very crisis the government is seeking to avoid, since it could not fail to be seen as an admission that the elections were rigged, which would seriously risk delegitimising the entire political system. Bear in mind that the government faces an opposition a section of which denies its legitimacy (something which has been true by the way of every Russian government since the mid Nineteenth Century) and the reason why it would be dangerous to go down this road is obvious.

      To my mind your comment reinforces my belief that Russia’s problem is with its opposition rather than its government, If there are “hundreds of thousands of middle class urbanites” who want a rerun of the election then rather than demand that the government concede something it cannot concede what those who purport to lead these dissafected “middle class urbanites” should be doing is uniting behind a single candidate in the Presidential election who once elected will order a rerun. There is absolutely no sign of that happening at the moment.

      • Eugene says:

        Dear Alexander,

        Well, the Kremlin only PROMISED to install cameras; only one camera has been actually installed for testing. Numerous problems have appeared with this idea after Putin articulated it: the lack of cameras, the insufficient internet capacity during the translation, etc. No wonder: Putin ordered cameras, the minister of communications immediately said YES — despite knowing that it’s all but impossible, technically speaking — and then backpedaling quietly began. Besides, knowing how things are working in Russia, I can predict that on the election day, many cameras will miraculously break and the function of many others will be somehow obstructed (like someone will hang his west on it).

        The real problem, however, is that the bulk of violations takes place not at the voting stations, but in the process of vote “aggregation”/election bulletin drafting in the so-called territorial voting districts (TVD). That’s where the real protocols signed by observers disappear and get replaced by the ones including completely different numbers. You can’t fix this with cameras or transparent boxes. It’s also hard to believe that the heads of these TVDs do this for fun; rather, someone must be ordering them to. Who?

        Even more troublesome is that the courts do nothing about this evidence of the alleged fraud. To my knowledge, two cases dragging from the 2007 elections went to court, and in both cases, the judges refused to see any crime in the action of the heads of the territorial districts. The judges agreed with the defendants that these number substitutions (in favor of UR, of course) took place “by mistake.”

        Now, I have no desire to defend Russian opposition (regardless of its ideology). The only remark that I’d like to make is that if for years your treat the grass in your back yard with napalm, it’s difficult to expect the lawn to be of golf-course quality.

        Best,
        Eugene

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Dear Eugene,

          Thank you for this. As I hope I have made clear if the idea of the cameras and the transparent boxes fails to come off I for one would breathe a sigh of relief. Frankly I find these suggestions dangerous.

          On the subject of the substitution of the protocols I am not familiar with Russian election procedure but again shouldn’t the opposition be making suggestions about how these abuses if they exist can be corrected? Incidentally I use the words “if they exist” because though I have no doubt that some fraud did take place during the election (the result in Chechnya looks to me like a straightforward invention) I am much less certain that fraud was as widespread and as systematic at least in the ethnic Russian regions (including in Moscow) as some say. I would have thought that if fraud was as widespread and as systematic as has been alleged then in view of the protests we have seen some admissions of participating in the fraud from the many thousands of people who would have had to be involved should have started to appear by now. So far as I am aware this is not happening to any great extent or on any significant scale. Also as has been discussed at length the overall result was not wildly out of line with opinion and exit polls.

          • Eugene says:

            Dear Alexander,

            “[S]houldn’t the opposition be making suggestions about how these abuses if they exist can be corrected?”

            It should and it does: a couple days ago, the Communists in the Duma submitted 5 of the total 12 bills aimed at fixing the WHOLE election process. Let’s see how far they’ll go with that.

            Why should the participants of the election fraud come forward with admissions? The election fraud is a felony in Russia. The point though is that these cases are almost never investigated (exceptions exist, see my previous comment). Why would I incriminate myself if I know that they will never come after me?

            OK, I stand to be corrected. In Vladimir, a criminal investigation has indeed been launched. The case there is farcical: two voting stations had been registered, but on the election day they didn’t open. There were no voters coming in; naturally, the observers were turned down. Yet, at the end of the day, both stations presented data on about 6,000 cast votes. More than 90% of the vote was cast for one party, the same at both stations. Wanna guess which?🙂

            Best,
            Eugene

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