Medvedev's Amorphous Political Agenda
- By Georgy Bovt
- Jan. 31 2008 00:00
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It was no surprise that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov would not be allowed to register his name on the ballot, and this was clear even before he started to collect his "forged" signatures. Similarly, before presidential candidate Andrei Bogdanov had a single one of his "legitimate" signatures on paper, it was also clear that the Kremlin would allow him to run. Now it will be interesting to see if the two million people who signed his petition to register will actually vote for him.
Of course, the outcome of the presidential election was determined long before it began. The electorate has been left almost entirely in the dark as to the future president's political agenda. And since Medvedev hasn't debated a single rival, he has been able to avoid any difficult or uncomfortable questions -- including, "What the heck is your platform?"
Medvedev's meetings with journalists are meticulously orchestrated beforehand so that he is fed only easy and convenient questions. To have such a cakewalk for an election campaign is the ideal situation for any candidate looking for a guaranteed victory.
Heavily edited news coverage is virtually the only source of information about Medvedev that is available to voters. According to the latest Levada Center poll, the number of voters inclined to choose Medvedev in the election now stands at 82 percent of the electorate, which represents an even higher rating than Putin enjoys.
What a great deal for Medvedev, it would seem. He has a record level of support without having to develop a political program. But, in reality, he has four main problems that will become serious issues for him after he wins the election.
The first is that, as president, the public will at some point demand that he concretely define his positions on a range of issues.
The second problem is that Medvedev has a softer, more intellectual and less macho image than Putin. This is a liability in the minds of many Russians, who prefer the tough-talking style of a strong-armed leader, or even a dictator.
The third problem is that Medvedev will have to get his on-the-job presidential training with Putin close by as prime minister. The duo will have to coordinate all of their actions by agreeing beforehand who will make which statements and by preassigning their roles in a range of situations. This may be tricky for the Medvedev-Putin pair to pull off because Russians are not accustomed to this kind of power sharing in the Kremlin. On the rare occasions when the country was ruled by dual leaders, these arrangements were always shaky.
Finally, Medvedev's current high popularity may prove too much of a good thing. It could become a potential source of conflict with Putin when he will want the presidential chair back in 2012.
But the one problem that stands above all others is that nobody -- perhaps including Putin himself -- knows Medvedev's political agenda. And this could come back to haunt Putin because, in this swamp of ambiguity, Medvedev as president will have an opportunity to develop a new political strategy that could catch Putin completely off guard.
Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.