Medvedev’s decision to step down may serve Russia well
I believe that D. A. Medvedev’s decision to step down as a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections must have been a difficult one as, constitutionally speaking, the president is the most powerful person in the Russian Federation. Why he has done so? To me, President Medvedev would be a very good president for the next term in office in so-called normal times, prosperous times, stable times. But what we see today is everything but stability and prosperity: problems in Europe, financial problems in the U.S., the slowdown of the Chinese economy, and, finally North African and Arab revolutions. In general, political instability in the world demands a lot from governments, and this includes the crisis management that is needed in Russia. Thus, one of the main reasons of his decision might be the need for stronger leadership, for a crisis manager who will be able to steer Russia through the period of a global instability.
The second reason might be that D.A. Medvedev started his presidency with very ambitious plans. We all remember the famous article “Forward, Russia!” The problem is that many of his ambitious and forward-looking proposals did not materialize. Judging his presidency from the perspective of his promises, we may say that a lot of reforms in law enforcement and other legal areas were implemented, but in the area of modernization of the country few things have been done.
The third reason might be in the fact that President Medvedev has no institutionalized political support. He has no support - or until recently he didn’t have the support - of any political party for his own political platform. It’s also doubtful that he will be able to become an effective leader of the United Russia party that for years was domesticated by V.V. Putin. I believe that this reason would have been strong enough for very serious consideration of D. A. Medvedev’s decision not to participate in the upcoming presidential election. And it seems that both leaders fully agreed on that.
All these reasons raise an important question for his political future. It seems – at least based on debates among key economists – that the President handling an economic file is controversial. As he may become a Prime Minister early next year, it will probably be an eye-opening experience as he will be met with the constraints and challenges of the real economy and real society. Thus he may acquire new qualities and new skills that will undoubtedly be very helpful for fine tuning his leadership style. Maybe it will serve him well in his next bid for the presidency in seven years’ time.
However – to me - the current political and to some extent economic cycle in Russia is coming to an end with the current presidential term. A new cycle should evolve in the area of industrial revival of the Russian economy, in the area of slow but firm and predictable modernization of the political system, in the area of civil service and human resource management, which means bringing new people (with new ideas) to decision-making positions. Thus the classic tandem as we know it, the arrangement of the president being closely supported by a more politically powerful prime minister, is over. Now a new form of the arrangement will emerge, but this, of course, will depend on the people involved. Specifically, it depends on the next move of the new Russian president. I very much hope that Vladimir Putin will launch a new economic and political program (mainly robust re-industrialization of the country) and will show a more liberal face both in Russia and abroad. To me, the key areas to address are quite obvious: strengthening property and civil rights, supporting some political changes like returning to the elections of governors and allowing new, independent political parties to emerge, strengthening the courts, effectively continuing fight with corruption, etc. If such a program will be launched, then new people that will be required for its implementation, and that may significantly change the political configuration of Russia.
Finally, the broader question of how such a political move fits into the democratic framework emerges. Transition of power within a narrow elite is becoming a global trend. It’s obvious that the classic notion of liberal democracy is changing, very much influenced by the financial crisis of 2008-2009, by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, by the looming new financial crisis, and so on and so forth. It is obvious that we are dealing with an entirely new notion of democracy when people prefer (to a certain extent) to give up some portion of their freedom and entitlements in order to have more stability and security. This process is influencing democracy in the sense that the market is sometimes becoming more important than democracy. And therefore the relations between the market and democracy are changing, and not in favor of democracy. The problem is how much democracy the market can sustain in the times of crisis. That’s one question. Another is to what extent democracy can help the market be stronger. The answers to both questions are very disturbing. It seems that sometimes democracy is very costly and slows down the market. On the other hand, democracy has no direct, no immediate link with strengthening the market. So if you have this disturbing answer to both questions it means democracy is subordinated to the market. It seems that the market is now the key focus for most people because of unemployment, salaries, the future of pensions, the future of their children. In other words, in this very close relationship between democracy and the market, now the market is taking the lead at the expense of democratic rights and freedoms. That’s the global trend. Russia is not here an exception.
Piotr Dutkiewicz is Professor of Political Science, Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Carleton University, Ottawa, member of the Valdai Discussion Club Advisory Board.