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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bureaucracy Doing Its Part for Pluralism

Russia today has a two-party system. People have a choice between United Russia and the new party headed by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, which opted for the name A Just Russia over the weekend. Until then people had mostly been calling it the Party of Life -- one of the parties that united to form it.

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Some months ago, when Mironov had just embarked on his party building, I was skeptical about its prospects. But the party -- not yet A Just Russia, mind you -- won the mayoral election in Samara and took a hefty chunk of the vote in Tuva. Not bad.

The problem is that I was assessing Mironov's prospects from a sociopolitical standpoint. But political and social considerations have little influence on the success of Russian political parties. The real struggle takes place within the bureaucratic apparatus, and here the appearance of a second party changes much.

Sure, the party is still indistinct, devoid of ideas and principles, and has no social base, activists or allies. In fact, it has no policies at all. But its suitability as an ideal vehicle for bureaucratic intrigues and squabbles between competing careerists seem to be underpinning its growing success.

There is nothing worse than pluralism within a bureaucratic apparatus. Bureaucrats are prone to widespread dislikes and rivalries. But the appearance of unity within this hierarchy requires that all of this remain behind closed doors. Orders from above have to be executed and any open resistance is seen as breaching the basic principles of state service.

Bureaucrats can clandestinely sabotage orders from above, especially when everyone acknowledges how stupid an order is. But the image of unity has to be maintained with the dedication of a well-drilled guards unit on the parade ground.

But differences are part of life in political discussion, even if there is little or no difference between rivals. Two candidates for the same office have to convince voters that they differ in more than just name.

Unfortunately, the public and bureaucratic spheres have become so intertwined that it now looks like they have swapped places. Politicians, regardless of their party, understand clearly that they are really state servants who for some reason are formally elected. Bureaucrats, meanwhile, know that they make the serious political decisions.

Any spat between a department head and his deputy is much more important than a debate between faction leaders in the State Duma, let alone regional assemblies. But these skirmishes could take political shape at some point and kick-start a standoff at the ballot box.

A real choice has arrived with the appearance of A Just Russia beside United Russia. Not for voters, of course, but for officials. In recent mayoral elections in Samara, the incumbent, Georgy Limansky, was sunk by the fact that a large number of his underlings were fed up with him. When he demanded their full mobilization he did not understand that most of their efforts would be against him. Mironov's creation had official blessing, so the bureaucrats were free to choose. Liberty!

The Samara example points to a mistake by the United Russia tacticians as well -- they made it clear that they will no longer always support the regional incumbent, but may switch to a "stronger candidate." Where this will lead is not hard to predict: A war of all against all within the bureaucratic apparatus, where there is the option to support A Just Russia only to spite your boss. And if United Russia is also allowing city bosses to be replaced, they can always cross over to Mironov's side. Bureacratic standoffs, therefore, become political standoffs.

In short, the 2007 State Duma election could end up being adversarial and free in its own way. We might have some problems with civil society, but we also have the most pluralistic bureaucracy in Europe!

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.