CAN PUTIN'S INITIATIVES SAVE RUSSIA? PART II

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MOSCOW, September 18 (RIA Novosti) -In the first part of his article "Putin's Choice Is Russia's Choice" published in the September 16 issue of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the well-known political analyst Vitaly Tretyakov, a regular author of this government-sponsored publication, attempted, as he put it, to show that the impact of Russia's national security crisis, fully perceived by society only after the Beslan tragedy, was further exacerbated by a strong and long-standing political crisis that officials prefer to call the crisis of governance.

The issue at stake today is whether the political reforms proposed by President are the most effective to lead Russia out of the both crises without destroying the basic democratic institutions. The author starts the second part of his article published in the September 17 issue of the Rossiyskaya Gazeta with giving an answer to this question.

Most developed democracies of today are, in the first place, representative (in terms of their popular electoral basis) and, in the second place, representing their national elites.

It is the ugly nature of Russian elites that many Russian political observers blame as the main source of all the woes that have befallen the Russian democracy to date, the author writes.

The main goals pursued by Russian political leaders in the 1990s, Vitaly Tretyakov argues, were as follows: a) to retain or to seize power; b) to capture and hold firm grip on property; c) to prevent the KPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), the country's strongest political party enjoying support of a relative majority of the population, from recapturing power.

90 percent of the national leadership's time and effort was focused on dealing with the above issues. Hence, the leaders spent just ten percent of their time and effort on addressing the state's vibrant problems of nationwide significance.

Accordingly, the country's political system primarily developed to reflect theaforesaid interests, both in terms of governance and practices. The resultant system was democratic enough to grant the elite an opportunity to administer power and acquire property and, at the same time, sufficiently undemocratic to prevent Communists from seizing power and other political rivals from gaining access to property.

This was the type of political configuration firmly entrenched in Russia by the beginning of the new century.

Transition from the current voting system (combining election of candidates both by party lists and in one-mandate districts), which was introduced in the 1990s primarily to prevent the KPRF from gaining the absolute majority in the State Duma, towards a pattern providing for election solely by party lists does not spell out a departure from democracy, either in theory or in practice, Vitaly Tretyakov contends. The post-Soviet political experience leaves no doubt that most one-mandate candidates running for parliamentary seats in all four previous State Duma elections have been nominees of the political parties, government or oligarchs. Immediately after securing a seat in the country's legislature they joined respective party factions. At the same time, the author seriously doubts that in today's Russia it is generally possible to build new political parties of nationwide significance.

And this is why. The heads of Federation constituent members, whose appointment by election is practically canceled by the new proposal of the president presented a no less problem for the central authority than oligarchs and organized crime, stresses the article author.

The heads of regions and their teams have lately become one of the main brakes of development of democratic processes and elite renewals in Russia. Almost none of governors allowed for development of democracy at the municipal level, especially local self-government. But all of them participated directly or indirectly, personally or through relatives and dummies, in the division of property on territories of their responsibility, and did not let their rivals or the people come close to this property. Almost all heads of Federation members created exclusively controllable regional parliaments and crushed regional mass media. Moreover, continues the author, for a long time they actually controlled all regional power structures and special services, including those part of the Interior Ministry and the FSB, and courts.

At the same time, many blackmailed the Kremlin which refused to support them by national and international explosions on their territories. And the Kremlin often had to recede, for it realized that they have all resources to do so.

In brief, the author reaches the distressing conclusion, democratically elected heads of Federation members did not advocate democracy on their territories.

The heads of Federation constituent members are one of modern Russia's biggest political problems. This is the reason why Mr. Putin decided to deprive them of legitimacy based on the voters' direct will radically. This problem is by the way directly linked to the fight against terrorism, especially in some regions, first of all North Caucasian, and to the fight against organized crime, which has intertwined with power at the regional level, and corruption.

At the same time, the author of the article has an unanswered question: where are the guarantees that the nominees will be more democratic than the previous "people's chosen ones?" Vitaly Tretyakov also believes controversial the question what form of state structure - federative or unitary - is preferable for Russia. Preserving the type of Federation with the practice of appointing from Moscow of heads of its constituent members will be hard, he thinks. Won't it turn out that the heads of territories and regions appointed in line with the new system will be less legitimate than the presidents of some republics if the population of these republics refuses to transfer to the new system? In this case the Federation will again become dangerously asymmetrical, believes the author.

The system proposed by President Putin is more like a plebiscite democracy, that is, the most undemocratic form of democracy. Plebiscite democracy, writes the Rossiiskaya Gazeta author, is based on the following principle: the charismatic head of state elected by direct national ballot is vested by society with the widest power authorities beyond democratic conventionalities.

Realizing the whole positive program of such a charismatic leader will take a rather long time, in our case going beyond 2008 (when President Putin's second term ends). Besides, society will need visible and frequent proofs of positive results of such a rule. Finally, the return from the plebiscite democracy to "normal" is always very difficult and seldom takes place without excesses, concludes Vitaly Tretyakov.

The author writes about the necessity to adjust the present Caucasian policy.

The new Caucasus policy, whose development was blocked for a long time by regional elites of the North Caucasus, should this time be extremely exact and effective, believes Mr. Tretyakov. For the time limit for Russia's lack of initiative in this region is exhausted. President Putin said this in other expressions in his speech on September 13, writes the Rossiiskaya Gazeta author.

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