A Primary Only the Kremlin Could Concoct
- By Boris Kagarlitsky
- Feb. 07 2008 00:00
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Russians are taking a strong interest in the future president. But we should give credit to the Kremlin for having given voters plenty of time to warm up to him. In fact, President Vladimir Putin suggested more than a year ago that First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was under consideration as his possible successor.
After that, we witnessed a strange kind of "primary" that only Russia could concoct. Watching Medvedev and the other first deputy prime minister, Sergei Ivanov, vie for the chance to become Putin's successor was no less entertaining than the current contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The only difference is that the U.S. primaries invite the media and ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process, while the Russian primaries take place behind closed doors -- primarily in the offices of Moscow's political elite.
The result of these differences is that, while U.S. presidential candidates make campaign promises long before the election and then don't fulfill them once they get into the White House, a Russian candidate conceals his agenda from the public and reveals it only after becoming president. I don't know which system is better, but I am firmly convinced that ours is more interesting. It gives us countless opportunities for guessing future events. It is true, however, that these predictions are invariably followed by surprises that are usually unpleasant.
We are constantly guessing and waiting. First, we tried to guess the name of the next president, and then we speculated as to what his program might be. Political analysts and journalists have tried to figure out what Medvedev's future program will look like based on a few casual remarks and gestures. The future leader has fed our imaginations with vague references to possible political changes. And all of these hints and innuendos are very reminiscent of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Does this mean that we will see a new version of perestroika under Medvedev?
It is amazing how quickly everyone has lost interest in Putin. He stills sits in the president's chair and plans to step in as prime minister after the election, but all attention is focused elsewhere. Now everyone understands that "Putin's Plan" was nothing more than a grand scheme to ensure that Medvedev would become his successor.
A clue to Medvedev's future, however, can be found by looking at the stock market indexes, the price of oil and the consumer price index. While analysts attempt to read between the lines of Medvedev's elliptic remarks, the government officials can't figure out for the life of them the cause of the country's persistently high inflation. The whole difference between Putin's eight years in office and what we will see under President Medvedev can be summed up as follows: Putin ruled during a bull market, and Medvedev will be left trying to deal with a bearish economy.
The stability under Putin was based on the fact that the country's elite were able to compromise when necessary, but still get everything they wanted. Yukos was a good example. Russia's largest oil company was torn to pieces, but the elite divvied up the spoils among themselves and enjoyed the huge feast together in peace.
A global economic crisis could change this peaceful co-existence among the feuding Kremlin clans. Competing groups would attempt to undermine each other through polemics and sharp accusations, and this, paradoxically, will carry a semblance of an active, pluralistic debate of political issues.
The job of the new president will be to cast this struggle in a positive light. I think Medvedev is up to the task. In fact, I have no doubt that he will go down in history as a true democratic leader.
Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.