The political reforms that President Dmitry Medvedev has announced and that have now been outlined in two pieces of legislation already presented to the State Duma are the chief reply of the “government” to the demands of the “angrycitizens.” By protesting against rigged elections, the people are demanding what in the end people demand from authoritarian regimes: political rights. What did this reply consist of exactly?
At first glance it seemed to consist of well-minded proposals, but in essence it is enthusiastic trickery that has not even been covered by good intentions.
The first piece of legislation removes barriers for registering parties and their participation in elections. A party has to have 500 members in order to be registered and take part. There are two glaring peculiarities, however. The amount of barriers being removed looks much too radical, meaning that instead of ballots we are going to get bed sheets with 30 parties on them representing all the colours of the rainbow. Moreover, the legislation looks dishearteningly nonspecific: there isn’t anything in it about the model that elections are to be held by. Judging by the hints here in there, a so-called “binominal system” is being proposed that would have two seats up for election in each district.
This option looks like the The Swindlers and Thieves party working to clean up its mistakes. As the elections have shown, this party can no longer win a majority, but it still is the leader when the political competition has been cleared out.
A binominal system means once again converting this leadership into an outright supremacy. All that is needed is to lead with 30% of the vote in half the districts in order to receive 50% of the seats in the Duma. Now it’s clear why this unexpected liberal move in allowing other parties to take part was made: the more parties there are, the better chance The Swindlers and Thieves Party has at winning.
The legislation on gubernatorial elections, however, is a real masterpiece of legal deception. Here we come across the unbelievable wording, “Political parties may nominate candidates after consultating with the president of the Russian Federation, the procedure for which is determined by the president.”
Are you thinking that this means that they can either have consultations if they want or not have them if they don’t want? No, this means that they cannot nominate someone without first consulting with the president. The law seems to have two interpretations of the gubernatorial post in it. Governors are subsequently given this very title: “Higher administrative officials of a constituent subject of the Russian Federation (administrator of a higher executive department of a constituent entity of the Russian Federation).” The first part indicates a person elected by the people and he cannot have a boss, while the title in the brackets sends us back to that very legal notion that the Kremlin had been using by eradicating the gubernatorial elections. Since, as they say, the departments of the executive branch of the Russian Federation comprise a single system, heads of the executive branch of any given region are those subordinate to the president, who is the head of the entire executive branch. Therefore, a governor is interpreted in the law both as a popularly elected official and as a presidential appointee.
As for explaining which title applies more, just look at the procedure for removing a governor from his post. The Russian president, it says, has the right to remove a governor “stemming from a loss of confidence” which can be based upon “discovering facts of corruption and unresolved conflicts of interest.” Here we also have a reference to the law “On fighting corruption,” where this type of conflict is described. In other words, the president can fire a governor from his post without any judicial ruling whatsoever. Further down in the draft law where the opportunity for the people to recall a governor is described, a judicial ruling on the law having been broken is declared to be mandatory.
Here’s what’s most important of all. The law “On fighting corruption” says that the notion of an unresolved conflict of interest is applied in relation to state and municipal servants. An administration can in fact remove such a servant from their post if there is such a conflict at hand. In other words, a governor is defined as any old executive bureaucrat. Even though ministers, ambassadors and members of an arbitrazh court are not state servants, but rather people working in official state posts, a popularly elected governor is a state servant. It’s logical then that (as is stipulated in the piece of legislation) a governor is obligated to go through a procedure for being given access to state secrets.
If you elected a governor through a popular election, but the FSB didn’t give him permission to access confidential information, then he cannot be governor. The logic of this law reflects two things: the actual implementation of Putinism and his, you could say, political doctrine. As for the implementation, then it is easy to see that past presidential elections have been conducted based on the layout described in the law. Vladimir Putin approved the candidacy of Dmitry Medvedev in accordance with the procedure that he himself set up, and then the public had the opportunity to vote.
Putinism’s political ideology is reflected here as well. The man at the top of this whole hierarchy is the president, and then the FSB, and then anyone whom the public is allowed to vote for, and then finally the public itself. The court system’s role is characteristic of this as well: it is recognised as a significant authority for the public, but not for the president.
The answer given here to the demands of the “angry citizens” comes down to the following: 1) the executive hierarchy and its head are the only source of power and are the administrator of government power in the Russian Federation; 2) people expressing their political will through elections is inadmissible; 3) the law per se is only an instrument to trick the people and a mechanism to restrict their rights.