Putin, Medvedev ride tandem into polls
by Vu Thu Ha
Russia's presidential election is still several months away but the result seems a foregone conclusion.
At the ruling United Russia convention last Saturday, Russia's most powerful tandem, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, finally put an end to the year-long guessing game surrounding the presidential race in a much simpler way than many had anticipated.
Only a few months ago, there were rumours of a possible rift between the two leaders following an unusual public spate over United Nation Resolution 1973 on Libya in which Medvedev called Putin's remarks unacceptable. Some even predicted there would be a formal break in the run up to the 2012 presidential election.
But the cordial announcement of a role-swap, in which Putin would run in the presidential election and Medvedev would lead the ruling United Russia party in the parliamentary election in December, suggests the two remain united, perhaps more than ever.
Opposition forces and the Western media, which have long-been opposed to Putin's perceived strong-arm tactics and anti-West stance, were quick to draw a gloomy picture of Russia under what they call Putin's "iron-fist" over the next six or even 12 years – if he seeks another second term in 2018.
But for many political analysts and the Russian public as a whole, the neat job swap does more good than harm to the country.
The peaceful settlement between the duo represents continuity, stability and predictability – which the country, the Russian people, businessmen and foreign investors need in a time of economic difficulty.
Few doubt that they will both achieve landslide victories in the coming's elections.
Putin will easily win the presidential election as he is "super-popular" in Russia, said Sergei Brilev, a member of Russia's Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, in an interview with Russia's English TV channel RT.
His influence has hardly waned over the last four years as prime minister since stepping down as president after two successful terms at the top, during which he helped Russia rebuild economically and politically after the chaotic years of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
The charismatic prime minister commands nearly 70 per cent of the electorate's support, according to most recent opinion poll in the country of 143 million people.
Meanwhile, Medvedev is also certain to lead the ruling United Russia party to victory in the December election and later become prime minister after the presidential election.
Although his four-year term at the Kremlin has been relatively low-key, it has been unmarred by major mistakes. As a result, Medvedev enjoys a 63 per cent approval rating, according to a poll carried out late last month by the Levada Centre, an independent, non-governmental polling and sociological research organisation in Russia.
Analysts predict Medvedev, seen by many as a modern and progressive technocrat, will help attract more liberal voters to the United Russia Party in the upcoming parliamentary election.
Meanwhile, political plaudits are saying the job swap would not change the dynamics of the relationship between the duo, in which Medvedev has long been in the shadow of his mentor, who retains the upper hand.
Medvedev, as the next prime minister under Putin's presidency, would continue to wield serious political clout and no doubt continue with his modernisation agenda to deal with the nation's economic challenges and to liberate Russia from stultifying bureaucracy and crippling corruption. In his speech at the United Russia convention last week, Putin himself emphasised that Medvedev would lead a young, energetic and efficient management team.
"Those things we've seen being inserted in Russia's political agenda, such as political and economic modernisation, are often associated with Mr Medvedev's name," said Brilev from the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy.
"So if he becomes a reformist prime minister under a super-popular president Putin, that brings us a surprise political reality where Mr Putin, who is often associated with strong-arm politics, could in fact carry out a quite liberal economic agenda initiated by prime minister Medvedev," he said.
Analysts say economic reform will be the most challenging task for the new administration in the years to come as oil and gas production, a major source of income for the nation, levels off, while budge demands inevitably grow as the population ages. This comes amid predictions of political stagnation due to the lengthy leadership of a single strongman.
But it should be taken into consideration that both Putin and Medvedev are energetic leaders who have always had active and vibrant political agendas.
If and when Putin reclaims the top job, with Medvedev's assistance, he could reinvent himself to meet new circumstances, using his new lease on power to introduce sweeping political reforms as well as economic liberalisation, as some insider politicians and analysts believe and hope.
"If elected, Putin will handle the top job in a different way, not simply repeating what he has done before,"said Valentina Matvienko, the newly elected head of the Russian Senate.
"We will see another Putin, enriched by past experience. Putin who has passed through very serious tests and learned many lessons. It will be ‘modernised' Putin, acting in tune with the tasks of Russian modernisation," said the highest-ranking female politician in Russia.
Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, agreed.
"Putin himself fears stagnation very much, and he will try to change direction," he told the Christian Science Monitor.
"I'm positive that Putin will bring in reforms, and this will necessitate changes to the political system. It will simply have to become more sophisticated than it is now, more flexible, and there will have to be a measure of genuine political competition."
In his address to the party last Saturday, Putin promised order and reform. He called for reinvigorated government with new "initiatives and honest people for renewal of authority". He promised to boost Russia's annual growth rate to between 6 and 7 per cent, up from this year's projected 4 per cent, while raising salaries and pensions and spending more money on the military and infrastructure.
It is still too early to predict whether another Putin presidential term would be successful. But one thing is sure, he is supremely confident and clearly understands what he can and cannot achieve. And he knows only too well, his next term or terms in office will determine how he goes down in Russian history.— VNS