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Kazakh political patterns won't work in Russia


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) -Russian news analysts are summing up the latest parliamentary election in Kazakhstan largely from the point of an upcoming election to the State Duma.

They highlight the similarity of the Russian and Kazakh political systems-mainly legislatures practically subordinate to the executive power, with the many problems the arrangement breeds.

Nevertheless, I don't think Kazakhstan and Russia have the same problems, so I don't expect a similar outcome of the poll. It is impossible, for that matter, as the State Duma election law, Clause 82, bans a one-party parliament. Besides, the Russian and Kazakh political systems have much more differences between themselves than it appears at first sight.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev became a Communist and Young Communist League functionary in 1969, won premiership in 1984, and came to the republican top five years later. The name of his post changed several times but he remains the topmost national leader to this day.

President Vladimir Putin has different political antecedents and different prospects. Nazarbayev has obtained guarantees of lifelong presidency, and Kazakhstan does not run the danger of an institutional crisis. The president's relatives hold the country in firm grip despite occasional clashes within the clan. A controversy around bank accounts allegedly tracked back to him started in Switzerland and the United States in 1999 and goes on to this day-but too slackly to be dangerous.

President Putin and the entire Russian political system, on the contrary, are facing an institutional crisis. It will be inevitable as the helm passes into new hands. We cannot say how long and profound the crisis may be and what aftermath it may bring-but there is no way to avoid it. Why?

Putin has no smooth and ramified clannish ruling system. He follows the parochial principle in personnel placement, and many experts and political activists come down on him for that. He has chosen a far less waterproof arrangement than the clannish. After all, one cannot rely on his fellow villagers and fellow servicemen as one would on his relatives. Besides, we cannot say for sure whether the president's men truly depend on him-it might be the other way round. Throughout the seven years of his rule, Putin has not attracted anyone but old friends to his reserve personnel. Is he so strong as he is painted, after all?

The present-day Russian political system defies publicity. It is not so bad as it appears, nevertheless. It has two major weak points-not only an extremely limited circle in which functionaries are picked but also an absence of legal opportunities to eternalize itself. The acting Constitution explicitly prohibits the prospect. If Putin really does not aspire for a third term-which would boil down to lifelong presidency-none of his men can be sure to stay on the top.

There is a group in the Kremlin crew the newspaper Zavtra (Tomorrow) terms "the third term party." The latest issue of the Moscow-based daily offers a biting description of its platform, mentioning a "party fever" that is raging because "the partisan arrangement doesn't work with strategic goals."

So the Russian situation is totally unlike the Kazakh. President Nazarbayev's political party smoothly fits in his rule. The United Russia, on the contrary, is not exactly a political party but an institutional crux of the ruling system despite all references to it as "the president's party in his full control." In fact, it can eventually resist the system walled off from the public.

That is why it would be unwise to stage a poll that would give it an overwhelming Duma majority-that is, two thirds of seats. A parliamentary group big enough to crucially amend the Constitution any day is too strong to be docile. Putin's third term would put to doubt the sheer existence of the present partisan and parliamentary system, so the party in office can be expected to resist it.

If now Putin does not consent to a third term, whoever wins presidency will have quite different relations with the public and non-public power alike. No use creating problems for him by giving the United Russia a chance to bargain with him from the position of strength. That is why the party will hardly grip the Duma controlling stake-a half of the house is most probably the most it can aspire to.

Analysts' opinions differed when another party, the Just Russia, was in the making. Some thought the emergent bipartisan system was a token of the Kremlin getting nervy enough to make political blunders. Others regarded it as a wise strategic move by the president, who does not want to see his successor hostage to one party and one parliamentary group, which is long-established enough to become a gathering of people of overwhelming political ambition who feign loyalty as long as it suits them.

As I see it, the latter opinion was correct. Vladimir Putin is a real strategist. The Just Russia's election success or failure will show whether he really means to quit next year. Be that as it may, the Just Russia will certainly score more than 10%. This is the most cautious forecast possible.

Let us get back to our comparison of Russia with Kazakhstan. I compare only the two presidents and the ruling systems they have made. I don't say that East is East and West is West. I am not going into details of the mutually contrasting political and historical backgrounds-the topic, of gripping interest, is too big to raise in a short essay, so I mention it just in passing.

"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," runs an old saying. Unlike it, what promises progress to Kazakhstan would send Russia into a decline. With his enlightened authoritarianism, Nazarbayev has established a clannish rule to make due account for a centuries-long division of his country in zhuz ethnic and territorial clans. He has nothing against a one-party parliament. Be that as it may, the Kazakh economy is making progress, political development is on despite all, and the many ethnic entities are not bickering. Take Japan-is it any the worse for its de facto one-party system?

Russia is quite different. If it shifts to a one-party arrangement, it will degrade politically, with an eventual economic crash. However hotly we might appeal to civil society, we have to look facts straight in the face. Intraspecific competition-that is, clashes within the political elite-remains Russia's only economic, social and political driving force. The nation has the chance of a better life as long as competition survives on the top and there is an opportunity to peacefully settle its clashes.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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