13:25 GMT +318 December 2018
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    It is quite surprising to many that President Vladimir Putin has no genuine rivals for the March 14 elections. The country's electoral system envisages that many candidates will run for the presidency. Today, however, none of the hopefuls, except the incumbent president, can be called a leader. How can this phenomenon be explained? Ella Pamfilova, Chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, tries to answer this question.

    I believe that there are a great many clever, talented and strategically thinking politicians and public figures in Russia. What we really lack are genuine opportunities to become a leader. The problem here is the distorted oligarch system whereby financial and administrative resources end up in the hands of certain groups.

    Fifteen years ago, Russia started implementing democratic reforms, which are still not going smoothly. A narrow group of the political, financial and creative elite lament the failure of the democratic process, which is at the very least a false claim. The reality is that a small but very influential group settled in comfortably after the reforms and adjusted the country to suit their needs. Now this elite is being pushed away from power, which has left them in hysterics. That is, above all, the real reason for their indignation.

    Putin did not think up the events in Russia in the past 15 years. I remember when the NTV channel was being taken over by masked troops or the events of 1993 and other unpleasant things. I remember the way our prominent democrats, who now wail about the alleged failure of democracy in the country, used anti-democratic, Bolshevik methods themselves. Back then it was somehow justified by "the need to press ahead with the reforms".

    We are still a long way from democracy. Frankly, I cannot justify what is going on now. We have problems with freedom of speech, while pressure is exerted on the regional press. At the same time, things are no worse than before. I can tell you that because I know first-hand what it feels like being under pressure from our elite, the kind of people who would go tiptoeing around the Kremlin and be treated with kid gloves. What they lost is not democracy, but influence. I believe that the matter in hand does not concern the lack of genuine presidential candidates. The real problem is there are no new ideas floating around. Nobody has a well-considered development strategy.

    Putin himself may be unhappy about the current situation. I am convinced that he, as the president, must do his best for civil institutions, social initiatives, political parties and opposition movements to develop. This is because one can only rely on resistance. Progress is possible in a competitive environment alone. There has to be a variety of opinions and standpoints.

    Sad though it may be, the situation is the way it is. This is our common, nationwide, woe. I am sure that new leaders, young and authoritative politicians will emerge with new ideas.

    But what is the use pretending there are opponents? It is pointless appointing convenient yes-men. We have to face the music and understand the potential negative effects. Instead of breeding political puppets, we must identify the most promising public figures, political leaders that will be the political elite of the country and take Russia to a new level that befits its potential.

    The priority for the president in the coming four years is to ensure that true leaders can grow and assert themselves naturally, without obstacles, using their own strength, experience and skills. This is quite a challenge. And, to be honest, there are not many countries that can boast such conditions. However, I believe that Russia's future and development depends on just this.

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