09.11.2004
«Mobilization Plus Modernization»
№4 2004 October/December



 

SUCCESSOR-2 PROJECT

 

Russian
President Vladimir Putin will be forced to consider the tactics he
will employ in order to preserve the continuity of his policy after
his term in office expires in 2008. He should do this for a variety
of reasons. First, as a politician he is fairly young and there is
no reason why he should retire from politics now. Second, quitting
would be far easier said than done – over the years of his
presidency Putin has created a system of power cemented by his own
personality, and this system will not let him go. Third, he has
devised a certain policy, which, in his opinion, is good for the
country. It is a policy of reviving a united, powerful Russia
within the general democratic framework. Putin’s experience and
mentality prompt him to rally support for this policy among the
bureaucracy – a revamped bureaucracy, as he sees it.

 

In the
past, Putin had a successor’s role himself, and he must realize
that simply nominating a successor and supporting him with
administrative resources during the pre-election phase will not
guarantee the continuity of his political course. Furthermore,
there is always the risk that the selected successor may fail to be
elected.

 

Putin
understands too well how great the president’s powers are in modern
Russia. Once his successor has risen to power, he may easily change
bearings, just as Putin himself did. There is yet another no less
important circumstance: if the party of power collapses while
having accomplished nothing, many will be unable to hide their
smiles. The situation will look risible and symptomatic at the same
time and will spell disaster for the Russian bureaucracy, where
Putin himself belongs.

 

In a word,
any simple clue to one very specific problem – that of policy
continuity – will be as ineffective as it will be dangerous for the
nation. The danger lies in the fact that given the current
political vector, any further policy adjustment may well plunge the
country into outright dictatorship. The time is ripe for taking the
“Ring of Power” away from Russia’s president – any president – and
for doing away with it once and for all.

 

NEW
WINESKINS
FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL
RESOURCE

 

Doing away
with the “Ring of Power” and ensuring the longevity of the regime
that has been taking shape over the past five years will
necessitate pouring a part of the presidential resources into new
wineskins without spilling a drop.  In
a democratic environment it is the party of power, or the party of
the Kremlin, that can – and must – assume this function. The
candidate for this role is obvious. It is the United Russia party,
of which Putin may become the leader in due time. This idea has
long been on everyone’s mind. The end goal, however, is not merely
finding a safe haven for a retired national leader, but creating a
new center of force that may act as a counterbalance to a future
president.

 

The
problem is that taking control of a political party, let alone a
party like today’s United Russia, will not be a very big
achievement at all. Prerequisites must be created for enhancing the
role of the political parties and reinforcing the parties
themselves. This includes United Russia. Thus, the window of
opportunity, which the parties can use to gain seats in parliament,
should be narrowed. As soon as membership in a political party
proves to be the sole way of getting into parliament, the task of
making parties stronger will be far easier to accomplish. The
resources currently scattered among the constituencies – human,
administrative, etc. – will be funneled into the political
parties.

 

Actually,
society must be given the message that the means for achieving
power are limited, thus it is necessary to unite. If such a
consolidation is possible, then positive feedback will be imminent.
As a result, both individual parties and the national parliament
itself will gain strength as centers of political force. Thus, a
transition from a presidential republic to a parliamentary model
will become eventually possible. (Incidentally, the citizens of
Russia tend to associate themselves with Europe rather than America
and, according to opinion polls, gravitate toward a parliamentary
republic.)

 

On this
point, however, the creation of a genuinely strong parliament is a
very remote possibility. Putin is a good tactician, and his most
important task today is to narrow the opportunities for politically
active forces to a degree that will enable them to create at least
one center that will serve as an alternative to the president.
However, two centers would be much more desirable.

 

If that is
the case, the decision to make governors eligible by local
legislatures upon presidential recommendation matches this tactical
task fairly well. Apart from curbing excessive federalism (which in
some cases smacks of feudalism), this decision will also map out
the surest way to power – those who aspire to getting governors’
posts are most welcome to join United Russia. (Incidentally, civil
servants were recently permitted to get memberships in political
parties.)

 

It is
nakedly clear that the party coached to attain “imminent victory”
will be a bureaucratic party. At the same time, claiming that it
will be the sole party in Russia, like the Communist Party of the
Soviet Union was in its day, would be inaccurate. Under the
existing Constitution-based electoral legislation, the State Duma
must have, at a minimum, four separate factions. It is worth noting
that, whereas before there was a plan for splitting United Russia
into the left wing and the right wing, this idea seems to have been
buried, or is about to be. The reasons, first of all, are that
United Russia is not big and strong enough to be split into two
equally viable offshoots. Second, it is the right wing that Putin
really needs. Third, the left wing of the political spectrum is
already packed to capacity, and if United Russia is cut into bits
and pieces it will be unable to withstand competition in that
domain. Therefore, it seems that United Russia will not be split,
but will be further strengthened, reinforced with human resources
and adjusted to the parameters of a bureaucratic party
model.

 

Today, the
most reasonable and sober-minded quarters of experts hold the
general opinion that: a) the bureaucratic party of power needs an
opponent, b) a future opponent must represent the interests of an
independent social group, c) the current authorities will –
probably – be interested in having such an opponent. In other
words, it is assumed that the authorities will not resist the
emergence of another center of force (somewhat weaker than the
bureaucratic one, of course) in the form of another political party
– a party of moderate opposition. The authorities will certainly
seek to make this force ‘constructively oppositional’ but
controllable. Yet, making it absolutely yielding and ‘tamed’ would
be senseless.

 

Thus, the
idea of a party representing an independent social stratum seems to
be more preferable. At this point, however, the Kremlin seems to be
leaning toward the creation of a left-wing opponent.

 

A
BLUEPRINT FOR A FUTURE EDIFICE

 

At the
federal level, it should be expected that by the next presidential
election the role of the parliament will somewhat increase, while
that of the president will be reduced. There is a chance that
United Russia will be purged of its super-heavyweight members, who
will be replaced by young and ambitious bureaucrats. If this
materializes, the party will be prepared to welcome the incumbent
Russian president as its leader.

 

One may
also expect the emergence of some oppositionist left-wing party,
but a right-wing opposition party may appear, as well. The latter
is not on the Kremlin’s agenda yet and this is probably a good
thing. Should the authorities themselves undertake to form an
‘independent opposition,’ these attempts will be doomed from the
start. An independent class is independent because it acts at its
own discretion. It must be admitted for the sake of truth that that
class has so far preferred to safeguard its independence outside of
public politics. But there remains the hope that tougher
competition – following the introduction of the proportionate
electoral system and the revised procedure of selecting governors –
will force it to consolidate.

 

Whatever
the case, if the march of events is favorable, Russia will have at
least a two-party system by the next presidential term – identical
to what has happened at certain stages in the history of many
Western countries. True, some alternative trends have taken shape
in Europe, but the two-party period is crucial for establishing a
stable political system, and Russia will have to pass through this
stage, as well. What will the future system be like? There is every
indication that it will be far less elegant and shapely than in
those countries which have followed the path of democratic
development for centuries, have a well-established civil society
and an efficient system of public control over the authorities.
Nevertheless, this future system will be better than a brutal
dictatorship.

 

RISKS
INHERENT IN THE NEW SYSTEM

 

The main
risks contained in the new system become obvious at the regional
level as opposed to the federal. At first sight, it seems rather
odd that the hitherto directly elected governors have unanimously
spoken out in support of the president’s idea of their appointment
by local legislatures upon presidential recommendation. But only at
first sight.

 

Many
governors are nearing the end of their second (and in some cases,
the third or even forth) tenure of office, and their juggling with
regional legislation does not hold out the promise that many of
them will be retaining their posts for long. Meanwhile, the reforms
that the president has proposed will give them another
chance.

 

The worst
innate weakness of the proposed ‘bureaucratic reform’ involves the
risk that the pool of human resources will stagnate. Once the local
officials know that they are practically irremovable, they will
grow irresponsible. Moreover, the class of civil servants will be
able to retain a large degree of control over property, which is
important to many. True, this situation may come to an end, but
personal connections and services once extended to the central
authorities will have a far greater value than now. The
vertically-integrated colossus of executive power will agree to
sacrifice the ‘ordained ones’ only in extreme cases. No doubt,
United Russia’s watchdogs will keep an eye on everybody. Some may
be replaced, but the yardstick used to distinguish between those
worthy of power and those who are not will remain in the hands of
the bureaucratic corporation, and not the public at large. In our
opinion, this is precisely the reason for the current consolidation
of the law enforcement and regional segments of the bureaucratic
elite.

 

The
draftsmen of this proposed reform have suggested a countermeasure
that calls for increasing the role of the local legislatures. Of
course, this exchange does not look quite equitable, but it does
create certain levers which may work if pulled at the right moment
and with the right force. The question of replacing the inefficient
regional bosses, or those hindering economic development, may be
introduced by the business class, the economically active
community. With the emergence of a federal-scale party this
leverage may grow stronger.

 

Will the
architects of this scheme be interested in such a proposal? There
is no definite answer at this time. It cannot be forgotten,
however, that the central power will have far less room to err. The
reform was launched for the sake of making Russia more united
within a democratic framework. Therefore, in selecting candidates
for governorship the center will have to be very cautious. It will
not be able to afford the luxury of backing a candidate for
governorship who has encountered consolidated opposition of the
regional non-bureaucratic elite.

 

Sir
Winston Churchill dubbed the power struggle inside the Soviet Union
in his day as a “bulldog fight under the carpet.” The proposed
changes may make this figure of speech relevant again for a period
of time. Direct elections will give way to a lengthy procedure of
tedious consultation and coordination. There will be no chance of
appointing an outsider who is doomed to rejection and
misunderstanding at the local level. The selection process will go
on until there is unanimity. True, consultations on a candidate are
objectively worse than elections. The risk of a mistake soars, and
with it grows the risk of separatism and disintegration. This
consideration provides another reason why the Kremlin should seek
consensus.

 

At this
point it is worthwhile recalling that the authorities did have the
leverage of railroading favorites to governorship in the past, even
through elections, but the Kremlin-backed candidates lost more than
once. In other instances, certain groups forced this or that region
to accept outsiders. Electorates initially agreed to vote for such
candidates, only to become disillusioned before long. As for the
local elites, they declared a war of bureaucracy and sabotaged all
of the initiatives. Alexander Lebed’s governorship in the
Krasnoyarsk Territory offers the most dramatic example of such a
failure. Endless reshuffles, replacements of first and second
deputies, the inability to come to terms with local businesses –
all this brought about a situation in which Alexander Lebed’s
rating in the last months of his political career – and life –
plunged to record lows.

 

Another
big danger that the strengthening of the bureaucratic party may
pose is in the economic sphere. Bureaucracy is unable to take
risks, thus, bureaucracy (at least the variety that we have in this
country) immanently lacks the power to address economic problems.
For a whole year, Russian bureaucracy has done nothing to support
economic growth. On the contrary, it has resisted growth at every
step. The environment in which businesses must operate these days
has become more hostile than it was in the past (contrary to the
officially proclaimed easing of the tax burden and reducing
red-tape). The new bureaucratic policy concerning the national oil
strategy – most importantly, the eastern pipeline project – looks
utterly feeble. So do budget policies (the government does not know
how to spend the budget surplus), borrowing policies, financial
market policies and Russia’s interaction with foreign markets. The
list can be prolonged. This inefficiency is a product of
incompetence and bureaucracy’s isolation from what is happening in
the country’s economy in reality.

 

True,
there has been much speculation about a fundamental increase in
defense spending, which will resolve the problem of budget surplus.
But this economic strategy will look more like mobilization. And
what will the bureaucratic machinery suggest in terms of
modernization?

 

POWER
FIRST, MONEY SECOND

 

The
discussion of the latter risk takes us to the question on how the
sound forces outside the bureaucracy can fit in with the new
political system. The proposed concept of the political system
leaves very few options.

 

Through
non-governmental organizations and smaller parties. The probability
of success through these groups tends to zero. Success will be
possible, but only if conditions permit and with no small amount of
luck.

 

Through
regional elites. If one has to start from scratch, the process will
be a long one – making one’s way into the elites, gaining a firm
foothold and only then trying to influence something, while
struggling all the while with the vertically integrated
power.

 

Membership
in United Russia. Walking up the career ladder in the party will
take a long time, and contenders will be required to make many
compromises. It should not be ruled out, though, that if
modernized, United Russia will need ambitious personalities in the
economy. Therefore, approaches must be found to those who already
hold senior positions in the party, and are prepared for a dialog,
while keeping an open mind to other people’s ideas.

 

Participation in coordination and consultations. This option
has an advantage of embracing many structures – regional and
central elites, leaders of parties and senior civil servants.
However, those players who prove too active may be removed, or fall
victim to the use of force. As in the case of membership in United
Russia, there is a possibility that the authorities will consider
the risk that the bureaucratic machine will fall behind the rapid
development of the society and economy.

 

The
question of forming a new bourgeois-based party remains an open
one. This will not be so easy to achieve; suffice it to recall the
latest State Duma election campaign. The mass media, not to mention
the electoral commissions, are totally controlled by the
authorities. A political party can be removed from the race as
easily as an individual candidate. However, in the long term this
option may prove reasonable. Objectively, from the standpoint of
the country’s development, and not the Kremlin’s current tactics,
the party of bureaucratic revenge itself stands in need of a party
of constructive opposition.

Having
analyzed all of the options and being committed to a constructive
approach toward the realities, we would like to admit that within
the framework of the 2M Project (mobilization plus modernization)
the independent social groups face a choice that looks rather
positive. While in the past they were invited to join a merciless
free-for-all for a slice of the budget pie, an oil production
license, the best bid in a privatization contest, or victory in a
court of arbitration – these days only one solution is left:
fighting for power first, and for money, second.