A job for Vladimir Putin

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The United Russia party is working on a new plan to create a job for Vladimir Putin after he leaves office. For this purpose, each and every United Russia member is supposed to convince ten other people to vote; meanwhile, the party’s creative minds have been adding substance to the rhetorical figure of the “national leader.”

Kommersant reports that an article entitled “The Russian National Leader Phenomenon” was posted on United Russia’s website on November 6. The author is Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, party coordinator for ethnic policy and cooperation with religious associations. Sultygov notes that back in November 2006, United Russia’s general council presidium approved a plan of action that called for “developing a civil unity pact and adopting it at a socio-political forum.” Sultygov adds: “The key chapter in this civil unity pact will be dedicated to establishing the institution of a national leader as the basic element in a ‘new configuration of power’ and the principal precondition for implementing the Putin Plan.”

Sultygov proposes that the civil unity pact should be adopted at an All-Russian Socio-Political Forum held after the parliamentary and presidential elections. In effect, this would be the first Civic Council for the Russian nation.

Sultygov’s article says: “For representatives of federal and regional governments, local government bodies, political parties, and other civil society institutions, signing this momentous document would essentially mean swearing an oath of loyalty to the will of the people. It would be an oath of loyalty to a national leader, reinforcing in the hearts and minds of Russian citizens the constitutional order which has been established during Vladimir Putin’s years as president.”

Ivan Demidov, member of United Russia’s ethnic policy commission, commented that a civic council (sobor) is a purely Russian form of expression for democracy, distinct from the usual Western model. “A council could be an alternative to elections,” Demidov hinted to the RBC Daily newspaper.

Newsru.com reports that some United Russia members believe the Civic Council could develop into a permanent venue for the national leader (that is, Vladimir Putin) to deliver his addresses to the Russian people and “the politics-forming class” – especially since this class is taking shape already. Newsru.com notes that Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev (a United Russia member) has long nurtured the idea of creating a “new gentry” (dvoryanstvo) in Russia: made up of people who are loyal to the current regime, mostly from a security and law enforcement background. Russia has around 14,500 of these people already.

Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Political Techniques Center, told RBC Daily: “A national leader who stands above the president – this might be a kind of transitional status for Putin.” According to Makarkin, Putin would hold this post for a certain length of time, with a view to becoming president again later – possibly in an early election.” Makarkin said: “The only problem is that this whole idea of a council and national leader status just doesn’t fit in with the Constitution, so it’s not legitimate and would not be accepted in the West.”

Sultygov may have announced his idea prematurely – or United Russia decided to rely on other initiatives. In any case, by November 7 the party was dissociating itself from Sultygov’s proposal.

Igor Demin, spokesman for United Russia’s Duma faction, said that Sultygov was “expressing his personal point of view in the article.” In an interview with Kreml.org, Demin said: “That doesn’t mean we shall be implementing his idea. This hasn’t been discussed at any official party gathering.”

Vyacheslav Volodin, secretary of United Russia’s general council presidium, told Kommersant that the idea has not been discussed within the party. “I haven’t even read the article,” said Volodin. He added that he wasn’t surprised to see something like this published, since Sultygov is “a creative individual with many ideas, and this is the third time he has proposed his initiatives.”

The article got some stronger criticism from Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation. He described the publication of Sultygov’s “very surprising article” during the election campaign as “an outrageous attack on all of United Russia’s campaign policies, the President’s principles, and the Putin Plan.” According to Pavlovsky, instituting an “oath of loyalty” to a national leader is uncommon “even in totalitarian regimes – only Nazi Germany had such a practice.” On the other hand, Pavlovsky assured Kommersant that United Russia has “chosen an entirely proper campaign strategy” by deciding to turn the Duma election into a referendum on confidence in Vladimir Putin.

Kommersant concludes that United Russia isn’t entirely rejecting the goal set out in Sultygov’s article.

Further evidence of this comes from United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov’s speech at a meeting of the party’s supreme council and presidium on Wednesday, November 7. Gazeta.ru reports that Gryzlov opened his speech by saying: “Our election results must retain the status of national leader for Vladimir Putin!”

Andrei Vorobiev, chairman of United Russia’s executive committee, told Gazeta.ru: “We expect that Vladimir Putin might decide to join United Russia, based on the election results – but we have to remember that everything will depend on what he himself wishes to do.”

United Russia is hoping that its unconditional victory in the December 2 parliamentary election will provide sufficient incentive for Putin to join its ranks and become the party’s actual leader.

And the party has declared mobilization in order to ensure that unconditional victory. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, has instructed United Russia to stop highlighting the achievements of the party as such or any individual members; above all, United Russia’s campaign should focus on its leading candidate – Vladimir Putin.

RBC Daily reports that each and every party member (there are currently 1.69 million of them) has been tasked with convincing at least ten people to turn up at the polling stations on December 2 and vote for United Russia.

It isn’t clear whether these measures will be effective, but United Russia does indeed need to campaign more actively. With less than a month to go before voting day, the party’s support rating has dropped by 6% (from 56% to 50%). These figures come from polls done between October 13 and November 4 by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), as reported in the Vedomosti newspaper.

VTsIOM analyst Leontii Byzov links the dip in United Russia’s rating with the recent inflation spike: “Our poll shows that 51% of respondents have been forced to switch to cheaper brands of groceries. And these are precisely the kind of citizens who usually vote for the pro-Kremlin party.”

Levada Center analyst Alexei Grazhdankin explains it as follows: after President Putin announced that he would head United Russia’s candidate list, the party’s popularity surged due to people’s “amorphous political consciousness” – but now the instability of the same electorate may have caused the rating to deflate.

Political analyst Alexei Makarkin says that United Russia’s rating is unstable because the Kremlin’s efforts to identify Putin with the party have failed, and the impact of Putin’s presence on United Russia’s candidate list is wearing off.

Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute, told Grani.ru that although Sultygov’s proposal may seem like a parody, its actual aim is to boost United Russia’s rating. Belkovsky noted that it “reflects the intellectual level and aesthetic perception of reality of United Russia’s de facto campaign manager, Vladislav Surkov.”

Analysts are saying that at this stage, the post of United Russia’s leader seems to be the most realistic option for Vladimir Putin after he leaves office.

Political analyst Dmitri Badovsky told Gazeta.ru: “Of the many possible options which have been suggested – some of them completely extreme, like the civic council idea – this option appears to be optimal, since open and transparent party leadership is a crucial factor in procedural democracy.”

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