Daily Israel Report

Russian Protesters Do not Trust Medvedev and the System

If outgoing Russian President Dimitry Medvedev hoped to sway the protesters by offering reforms he did not succeed.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 12/25/2011, 4:01 AM

If Russian President Dmitry Medvedev believed that his reform package was going to assuage the protest movement, then the more powerful demonstrations throughout Russia today should have disabused him.

The reform package proposed by Medvedev was extensive: It included restoring directly elected governors (currently appointed by the Kremlin), allowing them to acquire an independent power base and mature into genuine contenders for the presidency.

A politically independent public television station  would be created (Medvedev also promised that in the digital television age there would be many more channels); requirements for parties and presidential candidates to get on the ballot would be liberalized.

The problem is that these proposed reforms came too late. The reforms will only affect the next national elections for parliament and president and assuming that both president and parliament complete their terms in office, this is 5 years down the road.

When reforms appear to be granted as a result of popular pressure it creates an appetite for more demands. Both these factors coalesce into the demand, uniting protesters from different political backgrounds the call for new elections.

Another reason the demonstrators were unimpressed is that Medvdev is a lame-duck president who has less than 3 months in office. Even when Dmitry Medvedev made noises about running for a second term, he was very good with words but not very good about walking the walk and putting these ideas into practice.

The protesters could already read in the Russian press objections to the reforms. Leon Polyakov, a political scientist from the Superior School of  Economics, warned that if implemented, the proposed Medvedev reforms could restore Russia to the political system of 1990s associated with instability and economic suffering. Polyakov reminded his readers that during the not so gay 1990s, parties were used as a cloak for businesses and money laundering and they proliferated by the hundreds.

The opposition is also worried that it is one thing to liberalize the requirements, it is another thing to decide that the requirements have been met. If Putin's henchmen decide to invalidate a candidate, they can simply challenge some of the signatures on nominating petitions and disqualify it.

A final suspicion is that Russia may be heading for the 1990s but it should be recalled that Russia was hardly democratic during Boris Yeltsin's presidency after he had won his confrontation with Parliament in 1993. It actually may make sense to allow the opposition to capture parliament, as under the Yeltsin Constitution the President is all powerful. This way the opposition in parliament can be blamed for things. One of the problems of the current system is that since Putin and company hold all the levers of power, there is nobody else to blame when things go wrong.