Thursday, May 08, 2008

Russian governance is... different

And the new president is... Dmitry Medvedev.

Which leaves us none the wiser as to the future direction of the Russian government from the personal perspective. Ditto the BBC reporter I heard last night, who delved into the new president's background without being able to say very much about him, apart from the fact that he was from St Petersburg (Leningrad, as it was at the time) and a university acquaintance said he was nice.

He had been one of Vladimir Putin's apparatchiks, which is specifically why he got the job. The election was pretty much a rubber stamp, since the institutions contributing to what we know as "democracy" don't exist in Russia or have been repressed almost stillborn. Situation normal in Russia, through at least three major forms of governance over the past 100 years, from the tsars to the Party to the... autocratic leadership they have today.

Putin stepped down simply because he was not permitted more than two terms as president. He had been engineering to take the role of Prime Minister, which he had occupied in the past under Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin was a drunken clown, of course, and would not have been willing or able to maintain a part in politics after he stepped down. Putin is an autocrat and not a drunken clown. And for some reason, all reportage I've heard around this has pussyfooted around the fact that Putin intends to maintain power. I've not heard the western media analyse how much of a power base Putin can expect to maintain in the lesser role of Prime Minister. Maybe that's because they don't know - but undoubtedly that analysis has been done somewhere in both western media and intelligence circles. It all depends how power is wielded in circles of influence behind the scenes. But I can't see Putin stepping back and cruising as Prime Minister. Especially if, as I have read, the Russian constitution only bars more than two consecutive Presidential terms.

To my mind, this business is a good illustration of two points. First, what we see as democratic governance is actually the result of a whole raft of institutions - including judiciary, media, political parties, largely autonomous government authorities and independent non-government organisations - that are taken for granted on a day-to-day basis, yet are vital for the level of governance we do get.

Second, what we see as democratic governance is not an axiomatic outcome of a model of government, but in practice takes on a tinge that reflects the background and character of a nation. That can be tragic at times for a country like Russia.

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