Party Lines Being Drawn

The Power Vertical

President Dmitry Medvedev gestures during a press conference at the Skolokovo innovation center outside Moscow on May 18.

It wasn’t until December 10, 2007 that Russia and the world learned that Dmitry Medvedev had been anointed to follow Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin. A week later, on December 17, Putin said he would agree to serve as Medvedev’s prime minister — and the tandem was born.

Significantly, none of this happened until more than a week after elections to the State Duma, in which United Russia won 315 out of 450 seats — with a huge assist from the Kremlin’s media machine and administrative resources.

We should expect a similar timetable this time around and anybody who came away disappointed or surprised that Medvedev did not reveal his 2012 plans at his press conference Wednesday is missing the point.

In an interview with “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology’s Center of Elite Studies, explains why:

In 2007, a United Russia-dominated Duma made the Putin-Medvedev tandem possible in 2008. Likewise, the contours of the post-2012 political arrangements won’t be clear until the composition of the legislative branch is settled.

And what the Duma will look like after the December 4 elections will, of course, be decided not by the voters but by the elite — an elite that appears sharply divided over the issue.

Will United Russia be allowed to maintain such a massive majority? What role will the nascent Popular Front play? Will more parties, like the Prokhorov-powered Right Cause, be allowed in? What will be the fate of A Just Russia after Sergei Mironov’s sacking as Federation Council speaker?

United Russia clearly wants to hang on to its overwhelmingly dominant position. But there are clearly those in the elite who think this is a recipe for stagnation. And while we shouldn’t hold out breath in anticipation of genuine pluralism in the Duma, some powerful voices have argued for some form of managed pluralism.

One of Medvedev’s more telling remarks came when he was asked whether he thought the president could be a member of a political party — which would be a break from post-Soviet Russian tradition:

In her remarks to “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Kryshtanovskaya seemed to attach a lot of significance to this comment:

I think this is correct, but Medvedev’s comment also suggests to me that Russia’s political party landscape could be in for a bit of an overhaul that will set the table for the post-2012 system.

And with just over six months before the Duma elections, just what kind of changes are coming should come into focus soon.

— Brian Whitmore

Tags: Putin, Medvedev, tandem, 2011 State Duma elections, political parties

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