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IF DMITRY MEDVEDEV IS TO WIN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN 2012, HE NEEDS UNITED RUSSIA MEMBERSHIP BEFORE LONG

Re-election for another term of office in 2012 might require from Medvedev membership in the ruling party.


United Russia may turn out to be instrumental for a solution to the so called Problem’2012, a political issue of no little importance. Abandonment of the tradition dictating non-membership in political parties for presidents and transformation of the ruling party from parliamentary into presidential is a plausible scenario of United Russia’s future involvement.

Increasingly more pressing, Problem’2012 stems from the inevitable collapse of the ruling tandem. As a matter of fact, this process appears to be under way already which is no wonder, really. The tandem was established to negotiate Problem’2008. Once this mission was accomplished, the tandem turned out to be good for practically nothing else. It cannot be counted on to safely negotiate rapids of the new presidential election.

The tandem in its current form was established for Vladimir Putin who had already spent two terms of office in the Kremlin permitted by the Constitution. His successor Dmitry Medvedev is in his first term of office at this point. The premier controls the Cabinet and the parliamentary majority. Considering aggressive display by the premier of his presidential ambitions and the forthcoming election of the president, Medvedev has to establish some new balance within the tandem or dismantle it altogether. If it is the latter, then he has to make sure that he will be in a better position than Putin. In fact, it will be wrong to blame Medvedev for it because Putin is clearly having the upper hand within the tandem and unless something is done, the political duet will be dismantled by the end of 2011 on Putin’s own terms.

The impression is that Medvedev is trying to restore parity within the tandem with an emphasis on external factors. The president spares neither time nor effort to establish friendly relations with his American counterpart Barack Obama. Domestically, he never misses a chance to emphasize that structural modernization is the highest priority on the agenda.

With all respect to importance of external factors, it is necessary to admit that a solution to Problem’2012 favoring Medvedev is unlikely without a radical rearrangement of the domestic political framework. First and foremost, the matter concerns abandonment of the tradition that compels Russian presidents to remain beyond political parties.

The tradition in question goes back to Boris Yeltsin who quit the CPSU and would not join any other party. Putin followed suit and retained political neutrality. At least, in theory.

On the other hand, there is political neutrality and there is political neutrality. Unlike Medvedev, Putin who remains formally neutral controls Russia’s largest political party that has a qualified majority within the Duma and majority in practically all regional legislatures across the country. That Medvedev lacks resources even beginning to resemble Putin’s goes without saying. This lack of influence and resources may cost him.

Applying for United Russia membership might be just the ticket. It has to be United Russia because establishment of alternative political structures that will match United Russia in terms of clout and resources is impossible nowadays.

What will it mean for Medvedev?

Considering his status, United Russia is highly unlikely to deny him membership. Once he is accepted, Medvedev’s membership will immediately do away with Putin’s exclusive leadership. After all, the head of state is unlikely to be accepted as a rank member.

And since Putin himself is not a party member, Medvedev’s formal membership will almost inevitably make him the party’s second leader. This turn of events will certainly serve his interests regarding 2012. As a member (leader, actually) of the ruling party, Medvedev will find it easier to get elected for another term of office.

As for abandonment of vestiges of liberalism that do not become leader of the Russian conservative party (which is what United Russia calls itself), Medvedev is working on it already. New powers of the Federal Security Service, neglect of the European self-government charter, the way the opposition is dealt with – all of that are but a few elements of his policy.

Once the president is in United Russia, it will mark appearance in Russia of a powerful presidential party and, perhaps, fragmentation of United Russia into at least two political structure. Future rivalry between them will breed at least semblance of competitive democracy in the parliament, something resembling the American bipartisan system but molded to fit Russian specifics, of course.

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