Vladimir Putin of late 2005 is not what Boris Yeltsin of late 1999 was

The latest staff shuffle in the government was taken as the beginning of the long-awaited Operation Successor and gave birth to a host of hypotheses. Early election is one of the assumptions concerning what the operation is about. This article is an attempt at analysis of what should happen in the country for the authorities to opt for an early election.

Vladimir Putin of late 2005 is not what Boris Yeltsin of late 1999 was. Unlike the first president of Russia, Putin does not have to do something extraordinary (like resign) in order to pass the reigns to the successor (elected by him and by the rest of Russia). And that is good. We have already had a lot of force majeures and could easily do without another.

However, can a situation like that take shape? Say, because of some objective and subjective factors? Let us try to figure it out.

A lot has already been said about objective factors. They include a dramatic escalation of the situation in the Caucasus. They also include a sudden deterioration of the economic situation caused by some extraordinarily adverse external factors…

Subjective factors are much more various.

Dmitry Oreshkin, of MERCATOR Group, is convinced that “should the authorities feel the situation slipping out of control, they may respond by arranging an early election.” Under the circumstances, they may even decide, “to arrange the election before the effect of negative factors on voters reaches its maximum.”

The expert emphasizes that the matter concerns the Kremlin’s “feelings”. Say, its fears that the ruling party’s sky-high rating will fail to be converted into the desired outcome of election of the Duma in 2007. Or that Putin’s rating and personal charisma will not be conveyed to his successor for some reason. Or, on the contrary, that the rating of some other candidate for president, one who is barred from the state-controlled media but puts forth popular slogan or redistribution and chauvinism, will soar…

Oreshkin believes that a situation like that may generate the “temptation to do something about the election right now.” Should the electorate become disillusioned in the president, the authorities’ ratings will plummet and no antes to pensioners and the military will help. On the contrary, “donations may even be taken as a crumbs and that will only fuel discontent,” Oreshkin said. It means that realization of national projects is not necessarily a guarantee of their supervisor’s election.

It does not take a genius to guess that certain political managers close to the corridors of power experience these fears every now and then. Hence the horror stories (absolutely unexpected for the population) concerning the forthcoming disintegration of the country and orange revolutions, hence stiffer control over political parties and non-government organizations, hence all sorts of youth projects…

Even the recent staff changes in the government (when the president either arranged a contest among two previously elected candidates or decided to use them as a smoke screen for somebody else) provided another excuse for speculations on the subject of an early election. If everything goes by the book, what will prevent Putin from saying “I can therefore I must” and putting into motion the mechanism of early transfer of power?

Particularly since some men who know what they are talking about say that even he himself is heartily fed up with speculations on the so called Problem 2008. And particularly since an early election may provide an additional stimuli in putting an end to quarrels in the team over who deserves the honor of becoming the successor and who does not.

Scenario One: the Duma

The scenario of an early parliamentary election is quite interesting too – from the point of view of scoring maximum electoral victory and from the point of view of the president’s future employment.

An early parliamentary election does not have to be ascribed to the intention to forestall the fall of United Russia’s rating though this possibility should not be dismissed out of hand. The decision may actually be ascribed to the eagerness to fashion United Russia itself for Putin as soon as possible. Putin may even top the party’s list if need be. Not in order to become Duma chairman of course, in order to become chairman of the future government of the parliamentary majority.

In the meantime, United Russia lawmakers are actively promoting the idea of a party government these days. It is unlikely that it is being done for the already pronounced candidates for successor because neither Dmitry Medvedev nor Sergei Ivanov are members of United Russia. In fact, not one of them will make a proper party leader. Should Putin become the party leader, however, it will certainly be different. It will transform the post of the ruling party leader from that of a puppet as it is now into something truly important and influential.

This scenario, however, has a definite shortcoming. Before an early parliamentary election may be arranged, the Duma will have to be disbanded. There are few clauses in the legislation that specify disbandment of the lower house of the parliament, and the president’s wish alone is not sufficient. The Duma will have to opt for its own disbandment – either turning down three candidates for prime minister, or voting no confidence in the government.

United Russia will look like a petty political structure in either case.

But a newly formed pro-Putin Duma will make a perfect backdrop for transformation of election of the successor into triumph of the idea of continuity of the course. On the one hand, this continuity will be provided by United Russia’s remaining in control (it will be a party of Putin’s power then), on the other, by nomination and election of a man of Putin’s choosing.

It will create the emotionally attractive effect of presence: Putin is seemingly out but hovers nearby.

On the other hand, the parliamentary election in December 2007, will precede the presidential election in March 2008, in any case. It means that all of that may be carried out on the dates specified by the Constitution: first election of the Duma, then that of the president. But who can guarantee that the mood of the masses will concur with the idea of United Russia’s triumph in December 2007? Unless the authorities are convinced that they do concur, they may go ahead with Scenario One.

Scenario Two: the president

Shall we now try and scrutinize the scenario of an early presidential election that seems so unlikely at this point?

Stanislav Belkovsky of the Institute of National Strategy is convinced that “Putin is fed up with his obligations as the ruler. He fears disintegration of the country and does not want to be responsible for it. Along with everything else, he does not trust his successor or his team.”

All of that is but emotions – fed up, distrusting… How will this variant look from the point of view of political technologies?

Put yourself in the shoes of the head of the state on the verge of stepping down. It will be nice to have the successor no matter who he is to feel indebted to you. To have him owe his post to you. That is a guarantee that the man will never forget who his benefactor is. In other words, Putin’s successor will behave with regard to him the way Putin himself behaved with regard to his predecessor. With respect, without any sharp gestures, honoring obligations and pursuing a policy of his own choosing.

This scenario should be executed in such a manner as to have the new president sworn in and carrying out his duties by December 2007 (the parliamentary election). Since there are always problems with the turnout in summer elections, the early presidential election should be arranged in spring 2007.

In this manner, by the onset of the parliamentary campaign Putin will be able to run United Russia (should he want to become the leader of the ruling party or perhaps even the prime minister) or occupy the seat of top manager of some strategically vital natural monopoly.

Under the circumstances, the Duma controlled by United Russia will play the role of guarantor of stability…

Scenario Three: the Duma plus the president

Early parliamentary and presidential elections are probably the least likely scenario.

Two campaigns at once are a sheer impossibility. Somebody has “to be responsible for legitimacy” in the country.

Arrangement of the elections one after another (that of the Duma followed by that of the president or vice versa) is too difficult and, more importantly, unnecessary.

It is not necessary because succession of two early elections may generate the feeling of disintegrating stability. The panic it will result in is not something to be played with.

The good is better than the best?

In fact, the number of scenarios may only be restricted by the boundaries of the flight of imagination. For example, the so called Belarussian Scenario should not be ruled out entirely. Officials in charge of integration of the two countries maintain that they are not working on any posts or structures “for Putin”, but these posts and structures may nevertheless be formed out of their exceptional fervor.

“We are witnessing a contest among state officials vying for the privilege of offering the most interesting scenario of 2008, to the president,” Oreshkin said. “Unification of Russia and Belarus is only one of the potential variants. Pavel Borodin is working on it. Fulfillment of this scenario may require an early election too – for the purpose of forming new power bodies of the union.” neither shall we rule out the possibility of election of the president of the union if Moscow and Minsk decide that the future state should be ruled by one leader. On the other hand, the Belarussian scenario seems to require a revision of the Constitution and Putin firmly promised to leave it alone…

Last but not least, there is the so-called Zero Scenario that seems to be the likeliest at this point. In accordance with it, everything will go as it has been going. Stability will become more rigid, living standards will rise, sociopolitical cataclysms will be averted, and the population will only become more convinced of correctness of its choice of Putin made in 2000. That will certainly make election of Putin’s successor easy. If the conviction that this is what is going to happen prevails over virtual fears in the Kremlin, elections of the Duma and the president will take place in accordance with the Constitution. I.e., on time.