Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The people are pleading with him

The famous last line of Pushkin’s “Boris Godunov” is a stage direction: “The people are silent”. They remain silent in response to the news that Boris’s children have been found dead (by their killers, as everyone knows) and a new “Tsar” Dmitry is being proclaimed.

However, the people of Russia have played other parts in the country’s history. Not infrequently they have processed to the place where a ruler or a would-be ruler is brooding on the iniquities of his enemies, to plead that he should accept power or return to it.

I really hate saying I told you so, but I did tell you so on numerous occasions. Sooner or later the people will plead with Putin to remain in power. They did so, individually and en masse at the United Russia Congress.

President Putin graciously agreed to be the leading name on its list for December’s Duma elections, which means that barring severe misadventure, he will be the country’s Prime Minister.

Today the General Council of the United Russia Party has proposed Vladimir Putin to be the sole leading candidate and draft lists have been distributed. I’d like to see the person who will suggest any alteration to that draft.

Putin’s own speech [link in Russian] was brief and to the point. In no circumstances must the country return to the situation seven or eight years ago and the present political system must be continued. Therefore, he is ready to go on serving the country, possibly as Prime Minister.
For me to head the Government is a highly realistic proposition though it is a little early to think about that because it requires two essential conditions; firstly “United Russia” has to win the elections on December 2 of this year; and secondly the country must elect as its President a man who is decent, businesslike, effective and modern in his outlook, with whom it will be possible to work. [my translation]
An interesting way of putting it. The first condition is a joke – United Russia is not about to lose the Duma elections or even find itself in a position of having to form a coalition. If another party of a similar hue does well, it will simply be absorbed into Boris Gryzlov’s group.

The comment about the putative President is fascinating in that Putin does not even pretend any longer that there is any semblance of democracy in the country he has led for the last eight years. He will decide who will be the Presidential candidate to take over from him and will become Prime Minister to ensure that matters are conducted satisfactorily.

There are one or two questions one cannot help asking. First of all, what will happen in the overlapping period? The presidential election will be next March; the Duma will be elected this December. If Putin becomes Prime Minister in December he will have to make someone acting President and one must assume that it will be the person who will have his special blessing.

Will it be the new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov or one of the Deputies, Sergei Ivanov or Dmitry Medvedev? And will any of them, particularly the last two, who do have their own power bases, agree to be ciphers while Putin continues to rule in another capacity?

Then there is the inevitable question as to why is Putin so anxious to stay in power. Of course, we all know that power tends to corrupt and it is a drug that people get addicted to very quickly. But one cannot help wondering what else is eating him.

It was generally assumed that when Putin became Yeltsin’s successor a deal was done, whereby the President and his family as well as the immediate entourage would not be touched. Putin kept to the supposed agreement – he went after the oligarchs but only the ones who opposed him politically and when he wanted to install his own people. Yeltsin and his friends and relations were left alone.

Does Putin now have any doubts about being able to do a similar deal with his successor? Or has the court become so big that he has to be there to protect them all?