Getting from four to five

One of the most interesting statements of last week was that of the vice-chair of the President’s administration, Vladislav Surkov, also known as the grey cardinal of the Kremlin. Speaking to American students, Surkov stated that United Russia has an “abnormally high” rating and that in the next few years the party will become weaker while opposition parties gain strength. Surkov went so far as to claim that in 10 years the number of parties in the State Duma will rise from the present four to five. Should anyone else say similar things, I would dismiss it as a mumbo jumbo with no adequate scientific background whatsoever. But we are in Russia, and Surkov is the main engineer of the Russian party system. So, if he makes such remarks, we might as well take them for granted. But what exactly is the goal of these changes and whose goal is it, anyway?

It is undoubtedly a bit ironic to hear the man who invented the notion of “sovereign democracy” referring to democratic patterns such as balance of powers or multi-party system. But let’s get over this. The fact is that in recent years, we have seen an unusually vivid tampering with the Russian party system. Regional and local elections have produced strikingly different results in very close timeframes (let’s think about the elections in October 2009 and the one in March 2010). This, as I have already blogged, seemed to be a series of experiments aimed at discovering the possible perspectives for building a “fake multi-party” system, which some say will resemble that of the former Eastern Germany.
This is of course, possible. Russian party system is not exactly democratic, but it is also not static. There have been a lot of signs recently that gave us the hint that the modernisation drive of Dmitry Medvedev might get an alternative basis in the form of a new platform within the United Russia party or in some other party or political organisation. There seems to be however some contradiction between this idea and the recent efforts to transform United Russia into some modernised party of power, which, on the other hand, suggests that Dmitry Medvedev will strengthen ties with the governing party and use it as a political tool instead of other circles. It is, at the same time, more or less clear that the “civil clan”, supposedly headed by Surkov and using Dmitry Medvedev as its flagship, has a strong distaste towards United Russia in its present form (or in any form under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, for that matter) and thus may be looking for other tools to strengthen its positions. So are we witnessing an upcoming political battle here?
As I stated earlier, I am sure that Putin and Medvedev are in the same boat – with carefully designed, complementary profiles, sometimes even with complementary audiences – but their teams are not. The siloviki team that is closer to “soon-to-be-general-secretary” Putin of course relies heavily on United Russia, while the Surkov-clan, understandably, would like to reduce the influence of the governing party on what they see as their own kind of politics. As early as last year, there were speculations about Surkov trying to discredit United Russia by staging the fake boycott of the fake opposition, so this might as well be the beginning of the second act of his aspirations. He was careful enough to drop the above lines in an unofficial meeting anyway, making sure at the same time that his opponents (suspectedly led by the vice-PM Igor Sechin) hear it. He was also careful asserting that United Russia will indeed win an absolute (if not a constitutional) majority in 2011. After all, he set a 10-year deadline for the new system to take shape.
Is this a plan or only a warning? Is this somehow in line with the planned revamp of Russia’s territorial units? Whatever the goal is, it will be damn interesting to watch it happen – or fail.
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