As the media predicted, the Duma has not supported a vote of no confidence in the government.
There were only 112 votes in favor of a Cabinet dismissal (with the required minimum being 226 votes). This was even fewer than the communists predicted. The Vedomosti newspaper publishes the list of those who voted in favor of the initiative: 47 communists (the entire faction), 34 (out of 39) Motherland members, 10 (out of 35) LDPR members, 16 (out of 20) independent Duma members, plus five United Russia members; 20 members voted against the vote of no confidence and four officially abstained.
At the same time, adds the Russkii Kurier newspaper, “the theater of sheer absurdity ended with a decent denouement,” when over 300 Duma members simply ignored the speaker’s call for a vote.
Nevertheless, the leftists don’t regard this action as senseless. Sergei Reshulsky, coordinator of the CPRF faction, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: the display of “utter government’s lack of competence” has been the main achievement of the opposition.” According to Reshulsky, if anybody tended to doubt this, the prime minister’s statement is supposed to convince everybody – so self-revealing it nature was: “I then don’t know what else evidence are needed.”
Indeed, Mikhail Fradkov was repenting as hard as he could.
According to Vremya Novostei, having hardly treaded onto the Duma tribune the prime minister hurried to admit “his personal and the Cabinet’s responsibility for the flaws during the preparation and implementation of the law on monetary benefits.” He noted however that though he thinks the reform is necessary, he is not satisfied with how it is being implemented.
In addition, he flattered the president: “It is awkward, but we could do nothing about this – it is impossible to postpone the reform. Incidentally, the president had warned us about this. Now that we have been criticized and given advice delicately, as he always does, this has brought to a positive impact and has been better that a public excoriation.”
Naturally, criticism from initiators of the vote of no confidence wasn’t delicate.
As reported by Vedomosti, Oksana Dmitriyeva who spoke on their behalf stated that in addition to the monetization the government failed the administrative reform, the federal municipal reform, as well as reformation of the public utilities sector. “Only co-authors of these decisions will vote against the Cabinet’s dismissal! The cost of Zurabov’s errors has been 550 billion rubles, which is more than the national defense spending, the funding for security and social policy! This government is inadmissibly expensive!” Dmitriyeva snapped back.
“Since yesterday the voters on the whole and benefits recipients in particular know the names of those responsible for the flawed monetization, the insufficient growth, low real incomes – they are the prime minister and his Cabinet,” says Kommersant. Besides, the newspaper says that this answers the following question: why did Fradkov visit the Duma?
Indeed, according to the law on the government, the prime minister doesn’t have to attend the parliament’s debate over a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet.
In particular, notes Kommersant, the Duma moved a vote of no confidence twice against Mikhail Kasianov, Fradkov’s predecessor: in March 2001 and June 2003. In neither of the cases did he attend the Duma.
Nevertheless, Kommersant adds, beginning from 2001 CPRF faction leader Gennadi Zyuganov (who has initiated the vote of no confidence against Vladimir Putin’s governments in all three latest cases) has been invariably assessing results of the voting on these initiatives as “the last ring for the government.”
However, Kommersant has no doubts that the president “strongly recommended” Fradkov to repent before the Duma. After the prime minister’s story of what happened, he immediately learned some lessons from the “execution” at the Duma.
The chief lesson is that Putin will only be dismissing officials now after mistakes have been corrected. “In order the successors wouldn’t be taken to account for errors of their predecessors,” Kommersant explained.
Mending these errors is likely to be a problem. According to Russkii Kurier, many in the government “have almost resigned themselves to the potential loss of the old haunts.”
The aftermaths of this are very lamentable: “governmental sources” confessed to the newspaper that activities of ministries, which didn’t seem to be wild before, proved to be paralyzed from the start of 2005. This applies to the economic bloc, which is most crucial, the Culture and Media Ministry, the Information Technology and Communications Ministry, not to mention the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry.
This is no wonder: according to Vedomosti, Healthcare Minister Mikhail Zurabov is considered “the most likely person to become a scapegoat” with regard to the monetization of benefits, which the people hate.
Nonetheless, Rostislav Turovsky, an expert at the Political Techniques Center, told Vedomosti that even this dismissal is very unlikely in the near future, despite a notorious letter in which 24 United Russia members asked for dismissal of Zurabov.
“The Kremlin will first give Zurabov an chance to carry out the painful healthcare reform and only after that it may try to make the minister responsible for all flaws at once and dismiss him,” Turovsky says.
Russkii Kurier is also confident that the recent “delay of sentence” for the Cabinet won’t be long: “Putin has repeatedly shown that he won’t tolerate any pressure and won’t respond to anybody’s demands forthwith.” The upcoming repressions are doubtless, as well as the fact that Mikhail Zurabov will be sacrificed together with some of his associates, concludes Russkii Kurier.
Kommersant has polled some experts on the following topic: “When will the prime minister be forced out?” It is noteworthy that the major discrepancy proved to be in assessments from two most popular political consultants now – Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the National Strategy Institute, and Gleb Pavlovsky, president of the Effective Politics Foundation.
According to Belkovsky, Fradkov’s dismissal is inevitable and it will happen in March or April: “When he was appointed, he had to maintain two functions: be in charge of all sensitive missions from the Kremlin – for instance, alienation of Yuganskneftegaz – and accept responsibility for all unpopular measures. However, he managed to evade both functions.”
This cannot help irritating the president “independently of successes and failures of the government.”
Pavlovsky thinks Fradkov “won’t go until May – less time wouldn’t enable a new governmental program, which will be required in case the prime minister resigns.” Besides, in Pavlovsky’s opinion, “no serious political crisis” can be discerned; therefore, Fradkov may confine himself to “restructuring the Cabinet.”
Everybody has grown used to having Pavlovsky and Belkovsky take opposite sides.
Novye Izvestia notes that as far back as December, Pavlovsky raised the topic of amending the Constitution urgently, since the non-compliance of the existing state system with the Constitution of 1993, as well as “blurred powers of the institutes of power, which may end in failures in the state policy” has been the major trouble of Russia. The time is proper to understand what state we are living in, says Pavlovsky. However, stresses Novye Izvestia, his resolute statements wouldn’t be vested into deeds.
Meanwhile, reports Novye Izvestia, his eternal opponent Belkovsky has managed to elaborate his own plan of the state’s development in the future over this period.
Belkovsky’s proposals are impressive. In his words, “the new state pattern envisages the sacred nature of the supreme power, which is beyond the political sphere.” Undoubtedly, the president who “is elected for seven years but can actually stay in power indefinitely long” is supposed to become that power. At the same time, the president doesn’t belong any of the parties and doesn’t determine the social and economic policy; he is only appointing judges, the prosecutor general, and chairman of the National Bank. The government formed of the parliamentary majority will be solving all economic and social issues.
Asked to provide comments on Belkovsky’s project, Pavlovsky gave a rather discouraging opinion: “This idea is not new for Stanislav. As is known, he admires the pattern of Mussolini’s state.”
According to Pavlovsky, Belkovsky “hopes that spasms of madness which occasionally occur in the top power circles are not overwhelming and epidemic enough to introduce a certain unprecedented mixture of patterns of governing.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that a group of Kremlin experts is working on the text of a new Constitution either.
The existence of such plans was confirmed a few days ago by Sergei Shakhrai, chief-of-staff at the Auditing Chamber, one of the authors of the present Constitution.
Shakhrai maintains that the current transition to a purely party-based Duma and a new method of appointing regional leaders is only the prelude to the major part of the reforms: “The system is being prepared for a transition to a parliamentary majority government.
In Shakhrai’s view, to form such a government it would be enough to change the seventh and ninth clauses of the constitutional law on the government, “and we would shift to a system where the government is accountable to the parliament.”
The Constitution is being revised for a different purpose: the prospect is that the parliament would not only form the government, but also elect the head of state.
Testing this model of electing leaders is the very reason why reforms in the regions are being carried out. At this stage, regional parliaments will appoint regional leaders; within a few years, the federal parliament will endorse the head of state.
Given below are omnipresent Stanislav Belkovsky’s comments on plans of the presidential administration: “A certain vague notion exists that our Constitution is expected to prolong Putin’s powers… The Kremlin is now seeking justification to its actions, which are flagrantly ineffective in any medium exposed to the real political struggle.”
The same applies to the real social and economic tasks – nearly all observers admit that the incumbent executives have extremely serious problems with efficiency.
Meanwhile, Alexander Ryklin deputy chief editor of Yezhednevnyi Zhurnal (www.ej.ru), says in Novaya Gazeta: “Persistent rumors are circulating in Moscow that the present government is living out its final days.” This matter doesn’t concern efforts of the Duma: “Our Duma will be the last to be informed when there is a change of government.”
Nevertheless, according to Ryklin, the Kremlin is probably ready for this: a quite proper candidate is being named in the rumors – Dmitri Kozak, presidential envoy for the Southern federal district.
The new candidate has many virtues, “closeness to the president” being the major one, stresses the author. However, there are some impartial ones: for instance, Kozak is “someone who can actually get things done.”
Moreover, specifies Ryklin, “it’s not hard to find someone who would be a more useful prime minister than Mikhail Fradkov. Choose a random city bus: half the passengers are sure to make a better impression as prime minister than Fradkov, and the other half would certainly do no worse.”
In Ryklin’s opinion, Fradkov wasn’t appointed as prime minister to do anything useful: “He was appointed solely for the purpose of being dismissed at the proper time.”
Whether or not the time is proper remains to be decided: it is time to replace the scapegoat, or is the old one still useful? The president’s plummeting trust rating has evidently served as a catalyst for these speculations.
The media are flooded with comments on opinion polls. Everybody knows poll results from the Levada Center: Yuri Levada said in his interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta that 30-35% of respondents now say that the president is to blame. This is a new phenomenon, since shifting the blame to the government has been a success until recently.
Anyhow, it is significant not to miss the moment for taking drastic measures and Kozak’s might prove to be a suitable candidate: a person to occupy the post of prime minister won’t be able to claim for presidency in 2008. “His political potential will be exhausted entirely: this is a crucial post,” notes Novaya Gazeta.
On the other hand, everybody realize that the government’s dismissal will only be able to provide he positive effect (make the rate of confidence stable) just once: “It is yet possible now to shift the collapse of the monetization campaign to the prime minister and improve the public image by sacking him. However, this trick won’t play several times.”
Indeed, it is inadmissible to appoint Kozak now and dismiss him in a couple of months for failing the public utilities reform: “Making this is possible, but senseless – a scapegoat must be raised for a while.”
In the opinion of Alexander Ryklin, “Fradkov is not being dismissed for the only reason now: in no way can the Kremlin decide whether or not Putin’s rate of confidence remains more or less decent until new public utilities charges or surgery is required right now.”
Moreover, Yuri Levada disagrees an assumption of Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Putin is losing the title of “president of hope:” “The hope won’t vanish, since there’s nobody else to have hope in. This is the major conclusion in public opinion which we observe each year; it has been extremely strong this year.”
But the level of hopes is still lower and the realization that hopes don’t come true is higher. We’ve received the following results lately: 57% of respondents think Putin has failed to justify hopes for improvement of the situation in Russia. Over the past year, this figure fluctuated around 48% to 52%, notes Levada.
It is also bad, sociologist Ella Paneyakh of St. Petersburg notes in Vedomosti, that “those who deny support for the incumbent president don’t find the one who could be offered this support.” Tumbling has been the rate of confidence in the president and his potential rivals. “No new faces are available, as well as potential sources of them. The people who are denying Putin of support now are moving into the category which could be defined as “I trust nobody, all of them are scoundrels,” Vedomosti concludes ironically.
These moods are extremely dangerous, thinks the author: “If the people trust nobody, this inevitably means that they are ready to trust anybody.”
An example of this is widely known: “Against the backdrop of disappointment in everything at the decline of the Yeltsin era the bulk of people trusted Vladimir Putin, who embodied their hope for establishing order, social justice and revival of the country’s prestige, whatever this might mean for the voters.”
According to the author, this reckless and unfounded confidence has caused lamentable consequences in the absence of options. It “provided the president and the people whom he brought to power with a carte-blanche for elimination of pluralism in politics and economy, exorbitant consolidation of the special services and poorly planned reforms, which finished the fragile social peace in Russia.”
It’s frightening to imagine what kind of carte blanche might be given to a person whom the people trust, in the absence of alternatives, next time, notes Ella Paneyakh, whose article is entitled “Free for the Taking.”
Ilya Milshtein shares her fears in Novoye Vremya magazine; in his opinion, “simplicity” is the only word sufficient to describe the current style of governing.
The principles of this style are simple: “Once deterred, our society calms down and begins thinking of salvation. Once deterred and caressed, society discovers that the salvation has come and will trust the authorities.”
Special service agents are not politicians, they are “servants who the power (especially authoritarian one) needs, but is not actually the regime.” Vladimir Putin is a secret service agent, rather than a politician; he’s therefore unable to solve the problems Russia is facing, Ilya Milshtein stresses.
According to the author, Putin “announces the fact that Russia is not mature enough for democracy – he announces this like a new discovery and has been logical, as a secret service agent should be, in crushing all democratic institutions in Russia, together with the country and its future.”
Milshtein says after Putin leaves the post of president “absence of the opposition becomes the main adversity for Russia, which would be havocked and which promises uncontrollable social outbursts.”
This is actually beginning, notes Milshtein. Putin and his inner circle are used to musing on solution of political problems in the manner of special operations, maintains the author and brings an example of this style of governing: “Chekizm is a militarized style of governing, based on the deterrence and conscious exclusion of any complexity.”
Indeed, why should one divided the powers if it is more convenient to concentrate the power in a sole center? What is the use of a dialog with the civil society, if “it is easier working with the civil society by heading and appointing it?”
Renowned political consultant Leonid Radzikhovsky asserts this is the major cause of current defeats of the power. “The manpower policy is being made more dependent on the bureaucracy, mainly the narrow circle of the secret service and habitually secure bureaucracy against the backdrop of silent and sure ruination of the “redundant,” “interfering” democratic institutions (the political opposition, independent media),” he notes in Versiya weekly.
As a result, the manpower got out of hand and started making more mistakes in politics and the economy, which Putin is to mend now by employing his habitual special-operation style.
As reported by Russkii Kurier, preparing for debating at the Duma “individual United Russia members intend to submit real compromising materials against some characters involved in the reform.”
In particular, the matter concerned Healthcare and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, as well as Gennadi Batanov, present Pension Fund director.
According to the newspaper, it was “threatened to reveal their corrupt nature to the public and show how they openly profiting on the problems of the population.”
Zurabov might be charged of “vicious contacts” to his wife’s company Octopus, which proved to be a supplier of medicines, which must be distributed among benefits recipients, without a tender. As one can easily guess, this means lavish finance allocation from the budget.
The topic of Batanov surfaced in connection to activities of his son’s company named Gosstroiexpo, “which becomes a contractor for various needs the Pension Fund of Russia is facing.”
As reported by Russkii Kurier, this information should have been announced during a Duma session, “which would inevitably mean investigation by the prosecutor’s office and other supervisory bodies.”
However, says the newspaper, yet before the session began an unambiguous order was received from the Kremlin to “hush up this topic” and postpone it for better time.
Thus, there has been formed an impressive dossier, which “could be used at every opportunity, which is yet to come.”
No answer is available to the following question: What kind of quarrel has happened backstage, and why did the Kremlin choose to localize the situation yesterday? However, says Russkii Kurier, it is not ruled out that this might come to light very soon.
“It is important that the government is waiting, not as represented by its individual ‘lassoed’ figures alone, but even by Mikhail Fradkov, who has every ground to assume that the performance at the Duma was actually a real warning – and perhaps the final one.”
Thus, concludes Russkii Kurier, as could be expected after the parliamentary debate, the pieces on the political chessboard have been placed significantly, but the president is yet to make his move.
But that’s how it always happens in Russia.