THE UPCOMING FEDERAL ELECTIONS AS REPORTED BY THE CENTRAL MEDIA
As was to be expected, the results of the recent parliamentary election in Russia made a strong impression on everyone concerned, namely the participants of the electoral race, campaign strategists, analysts, and, of course, the powers that be. On the other hand, it is small wonder that those results are being appraised from different viewpoints in the Russian media, depending on the side each given paper takes. For instance, Nezavisimaya Gazeta sees the election results as fairly positive, and states that “society is starting to awaken from hibernation”, which is shown by the fact that the new Duma will mainly consist of “pragmatist politicians”: “Shoigu, Primakov, Gurov, Luzhkov – all these people are technically centrists, as well as the Yabloko deputies and the majority of independent candidates. Thus, we have received at least one majority in the Duma – a majority of centrist forces.” In this paper’s opinion, the results of this centrist majority’s performance will become apparent very soon – first during the parliamentary debates on economic bills, and later through alterations in the national economy, which is to acquire “a new incentive for development”.
Segodnya, on the contrary, asserts that it was the “party of war” that won big in the election – it was those “militarist” forces that were “convincingly supported by the majority of Russians”. That is the reason why all the West’s future attempts to come to terms with the Russian government as regards the Chechen war are doomed to fail: Russia has made it clear that “it is aiming at revenge, no matter how dearly Chechens and Russia itself will have to pay for that.” Neither sanctions nor threats are capable of changing this belligerent attitude; “Russian society will only grow more spiteful”, and now, after December 19, the government has become a hostage to its own military machine.
Vremya MN believes that the election results once again proved the Russians’ reputation as “a people with a mysterious soul”. On the other hand, the paper muses, it is not so difficult to solve that mystery: Russian citizens are simply not practical. “That is why they vote for the nationalist Zhirinovsky; then beg the Communists to come and save them; or, literally a few months after that, elect Boris Yeltsin, the CPRF’s chief rival; or, finally, cast their votes in favor of Unity, whose political program they know absolutely nothing about.” In short, the Russian electorate is able to vote “under the influence of a fleeting rapture, a momentary delusion, blind fear, weariness, universal hysteria, i.e. for any possible reason, but never according to common sense.” One result of this is that Grigory Yavlinsky, “who scrupulously tells Russians what bills his faction has managed to promote in the Duma, how many new jobs those bills have created, how much money the state has already received and what credits it can expect in future,” will never be effective and efficient in Russia. This country is not the US – Russians vote not for more jobs, but for something different, the paper concludes.
Novye Izvestia’s view of the problem is even more straightforward (by the way, during the election campaign this paper supported Yabloko). The paper holds that the unexpected results of the parliamentary election – in particular, deviations in the electorate’s preferences from the results of pre-election opinion polls – can be explained by “the ongoing process of marginalization of the Russian people” which, in turn, leads to “a noticeable decrease in the electorate’s immunity against techniques for manipulating public opinion”. In other words, the Russian electorate is rapidly becoming stupid: “it continues to lose the capacity to make far-sighted decisions.” This phenomenon can be explained in the following way: “After all, currently many Russians are spending all their strength on physical survival, not on development.”
And since there is next to no hope that the economic situation in Russia will improve by the summer of 2000, Novaya Gazeta predicts that the upcoming presidential election “may well become a still more convincing victory for marginal campaign techniques over common sense and the voters’ social responsibility for their own future.” The paper is certain that many voters will very soon repent the choice they made on December 19, just like those who “voted with their hearts” in 1996 are now blaming themselves for not having voted with their heads. In this connection, the paper poses the following question: “Will the Russian electorate manage to grow any wiser before an economic collapse and Russia’s total disintegration?”
Meanwhile, Vitaly Tretyakov, Editor-in-Chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in an article dedicated to Stalin’s birthday, claims that no politicians are likely to seriously think of what is good or bad for the people when determining the course of Russia’s further development: “For it has always been the case in Russia – before Stalin, after him, up to the present – that people have been regarded only as raw material, fuel for reforms. Therefore, according to this long-standing theory, the people must endure and wait.” Tretyakov maintains that Stalin was “a real pragmatist who regarded the state as … a geopolitical system he had been entrusted with, a system that needed to be improved … And what are our current reformers but Stalins of various sizes?”
Apparently, this viewpoint is difficult to argue against.
Furtheron, Tretyakov expands on this idea of his: “Vladimir Putin, an enlightened security officer; Anatoly Chubais, an enlightened tough reformer; Boris Berezovsky, an enlightened tycoon – here are the three images of Stalin today, Stalin as the quintessence of Russian pragmatism and Russian reform-making – cruel, inhumane, and violent, rarely efficient, and often defective.” If we follow through with this logic, the inevitable conclusion will be that, despite any election results, Russia is to a certain extent doomed to be led by another Stalin .
From this viewpoint, it is interesting to examine media appraisals of the possibilities for the prime minister to influence the political situation in Russia after the election, and also of Putin’s presidential prospects.
Vedomosti, for instance, remarks in an article dedicated to the Federation Council debate on the draft budget for 2000 that the senators reached unprecedented unanimity on the bill: “In fact, the Federation Council members supported not the bill itself, but rather Putin, who attended the meeting.” Even the leaders of the donor regions did not venture to argue with the prime minister over the proposed alterations of the layout of financial flows. “Meanwhile, the new redistribution of revenues between the federal center and the regions (53% to 47%) has deprived the latter of 2% of the budget revenues. Luzhkov also attended the meeting, and also kept silent on the subject.”
The senators kept to this cautious behavior even when they learned about the preferences for the Kemerovo Region stipulated by the draft budget (Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev was permitted to spend the regional enterprises’ debts to the federal budget on the region’s needs). “One year ago such an selective exception would have raised a squall of emotion among the senators, but this time the Federation Council did not protest.”
The senators also approved of the prime minister’s idea of developing an economic strategy for the next decade, confirmed the amendments to the law on excises (extremely disadvantageous for regional manufacturers and, therefore, for the regional budgets), adopted the law on the specifics of declaring defense enterprises bankrupt (according to rumors, Putin was especially interested in that law), etc.
As one of the senators told the paper’s correspondent, the majority of his colleagues delivered speeches at the meeting exclusively so that the prime minister could approve their loyalty.
Vremya MN presents the same meeting in an absolutely different manner. In its opinion, the ostentatious loyalty to the prime minister demonstrated by senators at the Federation Council meeting was nothing more than a forced tactical move. The paper believes that since the parliamentary election, the upper house of Parliament has found itself in a very complicated situation. In the past, the senators – with their usual “thoroughly considered attitude” – would inevitably show themselves to the best advantage against the background of the Duma’s permanent opposition to the government, and sometimes they even managed to reconcile the lower house with the Kremlin. However, the situation has sharply changed after the election. Observers assert that the new Duma is loyal to the government, therefore the Federation Council’s role in Russian politics may decrease in the near future. Meanwhile, the senators remain interested in protecting their regions’ interests on the level of both the executive and legislative branches of the government. In this connection, the only thing the senators can do is carefully watch the prime minister’s political progress. “According to a source in the Federation Council’s administration, as soon as Putin suffers the first significant military or economic failure, this will be a signal for the senators to nominate their own candidate for Yeltsin’s successor. The more so as Yegor Stroev is already prepared to play this role.”
Itogi magazine thinks that the major discovery of the parliamentary campaign was that “as it turns out, a large-scale military operation can be used as a campaign gimmick, and such a technique can prove extremely effective.” The magazine maintains that the second Chechen campaign was from the very beginning designed “as the key instrument of the Kremlin’s campaign strategy.” However, during the several months that remain until the presidential election, the success of this “risky affair, unprecedented in its cruelty” will largely depend on “whether the logic of campaign techniques continues to suppress the internal logic of the war.”
In the interests of the new presidential campaign, the Kremlin should attempt to separate the prime minister from the Chechen war in the public mind. This means that in the near future the Kremlin may announce that the military operation is over, and a “purely police phase of the campaign” has begun; and Putin “will solemnly proclaim his intention to concentrate on exclusively peaceful tasks, mainly social and economic ones.” Meanwhile, the success of this would-be plan is doubtful.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reminds its readers that “the election campaign required mass support, but the current post-election work requires the support of various elites.” The “masses” were made to believe in Putin before the election, and now the elites must “test him for durability”; and this testing, in the paper’s opinion, “is going to be much more complicated than the parliamentary elections, and Putin will find it much more difficult to pass his test than it was to offer the masses attractive slogans.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta recommends that Putin, who “has failed to gather an efficient team of his own” in the past several months, should choose his election campaign manager. There isn’t much of a choice – “either Berezovsky or Chubais.” The paper thinks that it would be much more logical for Putin to opt for Berezovsky, “who has some connection with Unity and might inspire the movement to further victories.” The problem, however, is that “this person has a very ambiguous reputation in Russian society”. On the other hand, Chubais is no better in this respect, for “Russians associate him with the notorious economic experiments and failures of recent years.” Thus, there is risk in choosing either. The paper warns the prime minister against making a wrong choice, and explains the possible consequences of underrating Berezovsky’s capabilities. In particular, the paper states that Sergei Shoigu, as the leader of Unity, a party that has scored a major success in the parliamentary election, has now ascended to a qualitatively new political level, and hence “is now becoming a politician potentially capable of replacing Putin in case of a crisis situation.”
As Lilya Shevtsova, a well-known political analyst, states in her interview with Novaya Gazeta: “The Kremlin knows how to shape a full-fledged successor within two months. So why not try once again?”
In fact, Nezavisimaya Gazeta mentions the same time-frame:, “The situation will be clarified within the next two months. If Putin manages to start really dealing with economic matters by next March, his position as prime minister and possible presidency will not be questioned by anyone. Otherwise, the Kremlin will once again resort to political techniques in order to urgently promote a new heir to the current president.” In other words, Putin’s prospects as the next president are unlikely to be realized without “the support of the elite”.