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September 16, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6614

September 18 Duma Elections Update - A Step Towards The 2018 Presidential Elections

September 16, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6614

Four parties are expected to secure again their representation in the Duma: the ruling United Russia (UR), the Liberal-Democratic Russian party (LDPR), led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Just Russia, led by Sergei Mironov, and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), led by Gennadi Zyuganov.[1] In contrast, the democratic opposition has fewer chances of being represented. The opposition Russian Democratic Party ("Yabloko") and People's Party of Freedom (RPR-PARNAS), cofounded by murdered opposition politician Boris Nemtsov (October 9, 1959-February 27, 2015), will contest the elections separately - a suicidal tactic that mathematically further reduces their already slim chances to enter the Duma and further reduces the credibility of Russian liberalism. The democratic opposition is represented in the elections by yet another independent nominee -Maria Baronova, running with the support of Open Russia movement, founded by former oil tycoon-turned-activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky, residing out of Russia after his release from long term jail.

According to Aleksander Ryklin, editor-in-chief of the Russian independent media outlet Everyday Journal, the opposition should not participate in the legislative elections, since mere participation in the electoral process legitimizes the current system. "The whole political system is built in order to prevent the change of powers," he said.[2] Nikolai Polozov wrote in his column in Everyday Journal that "even if a couple of decent men enter the parliament, they should have not given their voters the false image of legitimacy to the legislative branch."[3]

Georgi Satarov, an adviser to Russian president Boris Yeltsin from 1992 to 1997, argued that even a small group of opposition candidates in the Duma will create ground for discussion aiming to oppose the automatic approval of all current governmental actions. He also argued that the emergence of a legitimate real opposition in the parliament encourages the growth of grass-roots "street" oppositional activities.[4]

Political expert Dmitri Oreshkin argued that while the elections have predetermined results, they represent "internal vibration" in Russia's authorities. He explained that if United Russia gets more than 40% of the vote, the system of power will preserve its shape, but if it gets less than 35%, the policy vector will change, leading to the reshaping of the government, including the resignation of Russian Prime Minister and UR Chairman Dmitri Medvedev. Thus, he suggested that the opposition should indeed go out to vote, not boycott the elections, since low voter turnout plays in favor of the ruling party.[5]

However, according to the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru, Putin's and Medvedev's recent fishing trip to Lipno Island, on Ilmen Lake in the Novgorod region, demonstrates that no matter the percentage of the vote that UR gets, Medvedev will remain in the government. Moreover, since the next political goal is the 2018 presidential elections, Gazeta.ru assessed that Putin might be thinking of presenting Medvedev for another term as Russia's president. Meanwhile, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has launched the "Replacing Putin" project for the 2018 election campaign. Gazetta.ru defined this project as "naïve and utopian," but at the same time, as "a perfectly intelligible attempt to demonstrate, at least on the level of political gesture, that a non-Kremlin-endorsed presidential candidate (a candidate, no more!) is a possibility in Russia."[6]

Below is a review of Gazeta.ru's article:[7]

 
(Source: Novayagazeta.ru, September 9, 2016)

"Medvedev Remains Closer To Putin Than Any Other Public Politician"

"An unexpected Putin-Medvedev fishing trip [on September 10, 2016] - by no means their first - has coincided with the launch of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's 'Replacing Putin' project, designed to identify an alternative presidential candidate in time for the 2018 election. Even if Putin seeks a new term - an assumption both Russian and global elites are currently operating on - the problem of handing over the reins of power in Russia isn't simply going to disappear; indeed, it is a problem that can only deepen with every year that the current status quo remains in place.

"As Putin and Medvedev have already demonstrated to the political elite, their fishing trips tend to be far from innocuous - and at least one such outing has played a determining role in the fate of the country. On August 17, 2011, the duo, who were vacationing in the southwestern city of Astrakhan (and doing a spot of fishing on the Volga), decided that Medvedev wouldn't seek a second term, but that Putin, for his part, would seek a third. Although the tandem's latest jaunt would appear to be a PR stunt ahead of the Duma elections on September 18, it still provides ample food for thought - and not only with regard to the narrow context of the elections.


Source: Themoscowtimes.com, September 16, 2016.

"Namely, it demonstrates, or was at least intended to demonstrate, that Medvedev remains closer to Putin than any other public politician; that Medvedev is unlikely to be dismissed from government prior to the presidential elections (or, indeed, relegated to a role with a title like Special Ecology Representative); and that, in all likelihood, Medvedev can continue to be regarded as a potential successor to Putin if, for whatever reason, the latter decides not to stand for election in 2018, or to stand down midway through the six-year term.

"Medvedev is a known quantity for Putin and the elites - not least because he has already served as president. And, during his time in the top office, he didn't touch a hair on anyone's head (well, apart from that of then Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov - a dismissal that had clearly been green-lighted by Putin), and took no action that would have somehow weakened the standing of Putin's elite. Furthermore, in what was an unprecedented move in Russian political history, he meekly relinquished power to his predecessor; never before had anyone done anything remotely comparable. Generally speaking, Medvedev must be regarded as virtually the sole politician with a genuine shot at picking up the reins of power in Russia, a country still lacking any proper democratic mechanisms - political competition, transparent elections, real parties - for handing them over.

"In the absence of these mechanisms, Khodorkovsky's 'Replacing Putin' project appears naïve and utopian; in purely human terms, however, it also represents a perfectly intelligible attempt to demonstrate, at least on the level of political gesture that a non-Kremlin-endorsed presidential candidate (a candidate, no more!) is a possibility in Russia. At the same time, it's clear that Khodorkovsky will be able neither to run himself (the law forbids individuals with previous convictions from doing so), nor to bring a favored candidate to power. [anti-corruption activist Alexei] Navalny, the most famous opposition leader in today's Russia, cannot run for the same reasons as Khodorkovsky. The list of alternative candidates has a peculiar, somewhat ridiculous air about it; on the other hand, though, no one expected Putin to become president of Russia in 1999...


Source: Themoscowtimes.com, September 16, 2016.

"The issue of Putin's successor was raised by the president himself in a recent interview with Bloomberg.[8] Putin admitted the possibility of a successor's emergence, noting that whoever comes to replace him must be a 'young yet mature individual.' Going by this logic - that of Putin and the Kremlin at large - Medvedev would appear to fit the bill nicely... Speaking of the Russian agenda, one of the most pressing political issues facing our country today is that it's not overly dissimilar from the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, what with their lifelong presidents and such. Take Uzbekistan, for example. Immediately following the death of [Uzbeki president Islam] Karimov, the constitution, which requires that the head of parliament be appointed interim president during transitional periods, was violated: the Uzbek parliament handed this role to incumbent Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who will subsequently go on to become head of state. In Russia, too, the authorities are still wont to resolve the 'presidential question' prior to any elections, and in private (during a fishing jaunt, for example); the elections themselves serve merely to rubber-stamp a behind-the-scenes decision.

"Given this context, Khodorkovsky's project may prove not-so-naïve: it may simply become an attempt to instill into the public consciousness the logical idea that, sooner or later, the country will have a head of state other than Putin. That there may be more than one - and, indeed, more than two - candidates for the post of president. That these candidates need not have any links to the Kremlin. That a change of head of state, if the state is politically sustainable never entails the automatic destruction of the country. And, finally, that the future of a nuclear power with a population of some 145 million people need not be decided over the course of a high-profile fishing trip."


Source: Themoscowtimes.com, September 16, 2016.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Versia.ru, September 12, 2016.

[2] Ng.ru, September 9, 2016.

[3] Ej.ru, September 14, 2016.

[4] Ej.ru, September 14, 2016.

[5] Novayagazeta.ru, September 9, 2016.

[6] Mikhail Khodorkovsky proposed an initiative "Replacing Putin," in order to choose a candidate for the presidential elections in 2018. According to Khodorkovsky's website, seven experts -political analysts Stanislav Belkovsky and Alexander Morozov, architect Evgeny Ass, businessman Evgeny Chichvarkin, and politicians Dmitry Gudkov, Vladimir Milov and Vladimir Kara-Murza - have suggested several potential candidates., among them: the leader of PARNAS, Mikhail Kasyanov, the leader of Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky; Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva; the head of Pskov's Yabloko branch, Lev Shlosberg; former finance minister Alexei Kudrin; Ekaterinburg Mayor Evgeny Roizman; and politician Vladimir Ryzhkov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov commented on the initiative: "These plans are being developed and, it seems, prepared for implementation by people who are already irretrievably disconnected from Russia, from what is going on here, from Russia's daily agenda." Khodorkovsky.com, September 14, 2016.

[7] The article was first published in Gazeta.ru and republished in English in Khodorkovsky.com, on September 15, 2016.

[8] See Bloomberg.com interview with Putin, September 5, 2016.

 

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