Medvedev-Putin Tandem: Steps to a Fully-Grown Electoral Democracy in Russia

Healthy electoral competition between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin could be the natural end of the “dual power” relationship in Moscow, giving Russians the final choice on who should reside in the Kremlin for the next six years.

Political ambitions, political intrigues, and more similar campaigns are on the way in Russia, especially in the run-up to the March 2012 presidential elections. The latest political scandal centers on Medvedev and Putin appointing new personal photographers. In each case the photographer chosen was a young, strikingly attractive woman, which caused a stir.

While nothing prohibits the two men from running against each other in March 2012, the truth is that, when Medvedev was elected in 2008 he thought he had cleared the way with Putin through to the next presidential election. This was a widely held assumption in Moscow in 2008, and was either ascribed to their personal friendship or Medvedev’s political respect for Putin.

In reality, Putin himself was in effective control of the ballot and endorsed Medvedev as United Russia’s presidential candidate back in 2007. What is more, Putin had paved the way for the young lawyer from St. Petersburg’s startling ascent. In 2000, he became Chairman of Gazprom’s board of directors, before being appointed Chief of the Presidential Staff and eventually the country’s First Deputy Prime Minister in November 2005. All this would lead one to assume that Medvedev would not hesitate to back Putin in March 2012.

That said, despite Western doubts, Russia does have a free and fair electoral system, and Russian politics is becoming more western-oriented. Opinion polls are of foremost importance as a guide to this kind of political environment. Vladimir Putin’s recent attempt to form a new political movement is a definite move in this direction; it aims to revive public confidence, something that is, in itself, startling proof. But what really is “Western-style” politics? After many decades of free elections in the West, we have followed politicians through opinion polls in good times and bad, through all points on the fiscal and electoral cycle, we have even seen them dip into public funds to revitalize and stimulate their flagging electoral fortunes.

We in the West have observed our own governments’ attempts to tame public opinion by reaching for populist slogans, frequently made on shaky grounds. Russia must be careful not to follow this path. Then there is the issue of military intervention in Libya: an intervention that has done nothing to improve French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s approval ratings. Had Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s presidential candidacy not been brought to an abrupt and premature conclusion in New York, Sarkozy would be in a very weak political position today. These are just a few examples from the West, which show these common strategies do not always make a politician more popular.

In this context, let me take a step forward and consider the measures Russia’s next president will have to implement. Putin has publically said that he can envisage Russia rising to become the fifth largest economy worldwide. This will be hard to achieve but is technically possible as long as the country's productivity rises significantly, to a level equivalent to that of the world’s other major economies.

The country should make the most of its oil resources, increase efficiency, and reinvigorate its efforts to achieve higher productivity. The hardest part of this new course will be designing a comprehensive growth plan to be implemented throughout Russia. Reserve currency status would also, long-term, be a healthy step to strengthen Moscow’s economic role, thereby encouraging economic and financial interdependence with other economies in the region and worldwide.

Other steps in a decisive economic vision would be outlawing the corrosive practices of corruption and fraud from the system. In addition, if Russia proves itself a profitable location for business, then foreign direct investment will once again start flowing into the country. However, the greatest challenges facing the country today involve addressing how it uses its oil and gas resources, its extensive geographic, demographic, and resource asymmetries, all of which seriously complicate planning for any post-economic crisis growth model.

Surely, Russia’s economic vision needs to shift the long-term engine of growth away from natural resources to a variety of domestic stimuli, targeting only a few important sectors, mobilizing funds, prioritizing the relationship between science and industry, and all possible innovative policy measures.

Healthy electoral competition between the two leaders could be the natural end of this “dual power” relationship in Moscow, giving Russians the final choice on who should reside in the Kremlin for the next six years. This election could transform Moscow into a modern and mature electoral democracy, in a process that even the influential critics of Russian affairs would be powerless to deny or prevent.

Moreover, instead of attention focusing on newly appointed women photographers, why not consider the possibility of a political coup de theater in Moscow, which would be politically and historically fascinating for modern Russia?

This could well extend to running for the presidency, or the possible appointment of a bright, energetic and forward-looking woman as prime minister of the Russian government after the March 2012 elections. This would be indeed a fashionable step for modern Russia. The West would finally feel immensely proud of all this new evidence testifying to the decisive steps the country has taken towards a fully-grown electoral democracy in Russia.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.