Is manual control really all there is to the ruling tandem and all it is good for?

A year ago, Dmitry Medvedev suggested amendment of the Constitution that extended terms of office for presidents to six and for Duma deputies to five years. The president said by way of explanation that Russia was a vast and diverse country and that maintenance of stability in it with simultaneous modernization might be time-consuming.

There is nothing wrong with extension of the term of office for the powers-that-be in order to stretch periods of stable development and current working efficiency of the state. It is necessary to remember, however, that political time flows in quite an erratic manner (meaning that its flow is uneven) and that political agenda can and does change. And that the political system needs an assortment of procedures to be invoked whenever these changes take place.

The socioeconomic dynamics Russia has been showing these last twelve months or so is a perfect illustration. When Medvedev was but breaking in (and suggesting amendment of the Constitution) last November, speaking of the crisis – much less of its domestic causes and factors of development – was bad manners. The crisis was first recognized by the upper echelons of state power only afterwards, after Vladimir Putin’s speech at the United Russia convention.

The last several months and the socioeconomic reality they helped with shaping of introduced even greater changes into the political agenda.

Arsenal of adaptation to difficulties and dealing with them developed by the Russian political system is unbelievably poor. Generally speaking, the so called manual control in the tandem’s name is all there is to it. That means statements, speeches, warnings, and other excuses that permit demonstration of political leaders to the people.

Parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia take place one after the other, essentially within the framework of one and the same campaigns. The situation being what it is, the political system cannot count on even a partial renovation every 2-3 years. Extension of the terms of office for presidents and lawmakers is supposed to take care of it, but the next cycle will expire in 2011 and 2012 all the same. Some other and hopefully more comfortable arrangement of the electoral cycle will take shape only in 2015 or so. Unless a snap election, parliamentary for example, became a must before that.

Neither do regional elections perform their function of adequate evaluation of the population’s political and social expectations and correction of the authorities’ political and economic strategy. Of course, development of political traditions takes time and all that but… As matters stand, regional elections miserably fail to be an opportunity to discuss the national agenda. They remain an event really important only for the local political clans and ruling elites. Had it been different, the Right Cause party for example would have never had the affront to miss election of the Moscow municipal legislature. Even a return to direct gubernatorial elections will change little if anything because regional leaders themselves are inseparable from power struggle between local elites that do not really care about interests of the people.

As for the constitutional procedures of the dialogue between branches of the government and “rebooting” of the political system, they nominally exist but do not function. Lots of these procedures (veto power in connection with legislative initiatives, votes of confidence or lack thereof in the government, referendums) were either forgotten or abolished over the years of what passed for political stability, high ratings, and personal monocentrism in Russia. Other procedures became obsolete with installation of what is colloquially known as TanDemocracy. For example, replacement of the Cabinet used to be one of the frequently used political “rebooting” techniques in Russia. These days, its application is as good as impossible. And so is dissolution of the Duma permitted by the Constitution. It is only possible in a conflict, real or feigned, with the executive branch of the government which TanDemocracy will never permit, of course.

On the other hand, the new procedure of the Cabinet’s annual reports to the Duma was introduced without the necessary vote of confidence in the government following the report. With the parliament denying the government its confidence, the president would have had a week to either sack the government or dissolve the Duma.

Considering that United States controls the federal parliament and that its leader (and member of the tandem) is the prime minister, these legal constructions appear unnecessary. And yet, what appears unnecessary today might come in quite handy tomorrow, say, during somebody’s lengthy presidency devoid of a booming export of hydrocarbons.