September 14, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6609

September 18 Duma Elections; Russian Daily Kommersant: All The Candidates Of The 2016 Elections Are Trying To Get Noticed By Vladimir Putin

September 14, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6609

On August 28, the Russian daily Kommersant published an analysis by Gleb Cherkasov and Sophia Samokhina, titled, "Fight Over the President", arguing that all participants in the 2016 Duma elections are seeking the same result - geting noticed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following are excerpts from the Kommersant article:


Criticizing The Government, But Not Putin

"Before the start of its election campaign, United Russia [UR] traditionally identified itself as 'Putin's party', reinforcing its usual offer to the voters with [a reminder] that the president was its founder. However, this year UR has many competitors in this field.

"'We will get to the Duma and help Putin,' shouts a candidate of a party that has... no chance of getting into the Duma. 'Putin is Russia's conceptual linchpin... He must disperse the liberal economic bloc of the government,' chimes in a representative of a party with equally non-existent chances. All the parties in this election campaign try to demonstrate how close they are to the president in the hope that Vladimir Putin's high rating will attract voters to them.

"First of all, it is a necessity for 'smaller' parties... For example, the leader of the Party of Growth, Boris Titov, started criticizing the government immediately after the party's formation. [However,] when asked about his attitude to the president's policies, the politician answered: 'When you come to the president, he issues many orders accompanied by extremely tough resolutions, which then go unimplemented. I don't think it is possible in politics, I don't think it is possible in military affairs. But when it comes to economic issues [which are officially the prime minister's and not Putin's responsibility]- this is exactly what happens'...

"The situation with parties [already in] parliament is a bit more complicated... Consolidation of parliamentary parties around the president on the basis of post-Crimean consensus is, inter alia, an attempt to show Putin that there are enough of those who support the integration of Crimea in the current Duma line-up. It is not accidental that right after the end of the previous Duma, [Communist party First Secretary] Gennady Zyuganov said during Putin's meeting with the leaders of parties: "If we come to an agreement here, at this table, we will make it [at the elections - "Vlast[1] ]."

"Therefore, the LDPR [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia], for instance, tries not to criticize the president, and all the problems in the country are blamed on the government. [The LDPR leader] Vladimir Zhirinovsky stated frequently that the president is in charge of foreign policy and 'there are no grounds for criticism here.' But this party stays true to itself during the campaign - you can often see the party's name on its billboards but not the candidate's portrait. And when it comes to slogans, they are traditional - 'we are for the poor, we are for the Russians,' and also something about fighting corruption and fee-for-service medicine.

"The Ccommunists were more eager than others to adopt from the president the rhetoric of 'the fifth column' that is driving the waves of 'Russophobia and Anti-Sovietism'. At [his party's] pre-election convention, Mr Zyuganov did not criticize Vladimir Putin; on the contrary, he noted that the president had instructed them to conduct the elections fairly, even though 'local administrators' would resist that.

"It is easy to compensate for the absence of criticism in Putin's direction by tougher rhetoric against those who work for him. That is why Aleksey Ryleev, a candidate from the Rodina [Motherland] party, easily calls government members 'liberal fascists'; Vladimir Ryzhkov, a candidate from Yabloko, says that 'poverty in Siberia is the result of deliberate activity of the federal authorities'; and [State Duma deputy] Oleg Nilov [from Just Russia] proclaims that 'our government has driven the country into an economic impasse, and now the discontent has become widespread'.

"Pre-election appeals to Putin, in an attempt to secure his real or virtual support - these are familiar features of a campaign. First similar attempts started in early 2000s. It would be odd to suppose that in 2016, at the time when the Crimean consensus is still in place, there could be even one absolutely or conditionally loyal political party that wouldn't try to proclaim its closeness to the president. The main peculiarity of the 2016 campaign, however, is not only any absence of criticism towards the president, and not only attempts to show that all parties are on his side, but the fact that Putin is being fought over, he is being appealed to. Practically from every party entry of the voting card one can hear an appeal to the president: 'Please notice us, dear head of state, please adopt our program for implementation, employ our finest representatives in positions of responsibility'.

"Vladimir Putin himself, willingly or unwillingly, initiated the pre-election fight for his attention. "

Whatever Putin Chooses To Do... He Is Not Likely To Lose Any Supporters

"In its last 2015 issue, Vlast wrote that 'until the 2008 reform (which extended the constitutional term of office for the president and the State Duma) the gap between the parliamentary and the presidential elections was six months (in 1996) to three and a half months (in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012). The most important personnel decisions (often not directly connected to the procedure of elections to the lower house of parliament) were made during this period... Elections to the State Duma and presidential elections almost immediately after that were used to determine the country's policy and to solve high-priority personnel and structural issues... Sometimes people were selected to conform to the policy, sometimes policy was shaped by those who held key positions'. Since the terms of office shifted, there was no fresh start in 2015, and, consequently, in the absence of staff- and substance-related decisions the tension in [the halls of] power only intensified.

"In mid-2016, Vladimir Putin took decisive action on the personnel front. On July 28, he replaced three out of nine plenipotentiary envoys, governors in four regions, and the heads of two federal agencies, including such an important establishment as the customs office.

"On August 12, the president discharged the presidential chief of staff Sergey Ivanov and appointed Anton Vaino in his place. It is expected that other personnel and organizational decisions will be made after the end of the Duma election campaign. Which makes sense: each new presidential chief of staff has the right to shape the structure and recruit employees.

"On August 19, the minister of education Dmitry Livanov lost his job. Numerous Vlast interviewees think that this is not the end of governmental staff changes. If you look at all the talk about reshuffles in the White House[2] , it will be difficult to find a minister or a vice premier minister who has not been mentioned.

"Personnel decisions are not only measured in quantitative but in qualitative indicators.

"In 2015-2016, Vladimir Putin began saying goodbye to the team that had accompanied him to the Kremlin and the White House. For the last six months, such people as Sergey Ivanov, [Federal Narcotic Service head] Viktor Ivanov, [railway boss] Vladimir Yakunin, [Federal Protection Service head] Yevgeny Murov, [Federal Customs Service head] Andrey Belyaninov, [Federal Migration Service head] Konstantin Romodanovsky have  left their jobs - people, whose absence from the president's team would have been unimaginable that only a short time ago. At least three more members of the president's team that have been with him since 1999 are at risk of losing their posts as well. The influence of those who seem to be firmly in place is also less obvious: our sources say that the appointment of the new minister of education went over the head of the presidential aide in this field, Andrey Fursenko.

"Even though it is too early to speak about a complete change of the old team, the trend is fully obvious. Clearly, Vladimir Putin does not rotate his team members in order to fill the vacancies with people from outside. But this focus on rejuvenation creates new vacancies by way of accomplished fact, even though they may be third or fourth-tier vacancies.

"This is where the election campaign may prove to be  quite helpful in filling vacancies, even if the election result is not always the determining factor. In 2003, the Rodina bloc scored an enormous success, but it was the representatives of [the liberal] Yabloko Igor Artemyev (Federal Antimonopoly Service) and Vladimir Lukin (human rights ombudsman) that got posts. In 2007-2008, posts were given to the leaders of the Rodina bloc - Dmitry Rogozin, Sergey Glazyev and Sergey Baburin - who were prevented from running for the State Duma. Selecting new staff is more than just filling in a personnel chart. It also defines the new political course. And on this issue, nothing has been clear since spring 2016. The starting gun was a practically declared competition for the program of action for the next presidential term. [The former finance minister] Aleksei Kudrin, who became head of the Center for Strategic Research in spring, participates in it. His plans are far-reaching: 'I think that both the elite - especially the business elite - and the working class will soon feel that the institutions of the judicial system, state administration, education and health work inefficiently. I am certain that we are on the verge of new changes.'

"At the same time, Boris Titov and the Stolypin Club[3] are preparing their proposals as well. Among the developers of this program is the president's advisor, Sergey Glazyev. Obviously, their proposals will be radically different from what Aleksei Kudrin and his colleagues are preparing. It is quite possible that the list of proposals on what the Russian authorities should be doing between 2018 and 2024 will not be limited to these two projects. [Communist leader] Gennady Zyuganov has already declared the possibility of forming a "government of national confidence", and this idea has not been rejected out of hand.

"Strictly speaking, there is still uncertainty and absence of final decisions practically in every field, except those connected to Crimea. 'The agenda is such that during these elections nobody has to be convinced that Crimea is ours and that Putin is our president. Today, people are interested in the state of their fridges, the drop in their income, they are worried about their own and their children's future,' says [Pensioners Party leader Evgeny] Artyukh.

"The choice in the Kremlin has not yet been made, and this by itself revitalizes the programs market. This means that every party still retains a window of opportunities, however small, for promoting its own proposals. Especially since every political group can still find something close to its heart in Putin's words and deeds. When the governor of Volgograd [the former Stalingrad], Andrey Bocharov, agrees that the local airport may be named after Stalin, and this produces no reaction on the part of the federal center, this is one kind of signal. But the president did not refuse to condemn Stalin's repressions either, and did not give public support to the creeping rehabilitation - that's another signal. Although, whatever Putin chooses to do, at this stage he is not likely to lose any supporters."




[1] The citation is from Vlast  the political weekly published by Kommersant.

[2] This is of course the Russian White House that in Soviet times housed the Supreme Soviet. It is now the main Russian government building.

[3] Named after an assassinated Czarist minister , the group favors increasing Russia's domestic production and stimulating demand.

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