The Election: views to the future

Power tandem will be good for the west

The West questions the results of the Russian parliamentary elections, saying United Russia used its administrative resources to prevent the opposition from showing its worth during the campaign. It is almost unheard of in Europe for a party or politician to win by such a large margin. In the West, politicians usually win by two or three percentage points and there is always a strong opposition. The West cannot understand that people in the former Soviet republics do not vote according to Western principles. Russia has followed a path of development very different from that of European countries.

The desire to support democracy in Russia is not the only reason for Western criticism of the results. Paradoxically, this criticism is an instrument for applying pressure on the Kremlin and the President. Russia cannot say that it thinks nothing of the opinion of the European Union or the United States. This would make it an outcast in international organisations, such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Now that the parliamentary elections in Russia are over and a reformist, Dmitri Medvedev, has been endorsed as the presidential candidate for the party, Europeans say that Russia-West relations will develop normally and become more stable. The European business community believes that stability in Russia largely depends on the stability of its regime. Unlike in the West, the transition of power from one party to another in Russia is inevitably accompanied by political cataclysms.

Medvedev, if elected, will be the country's first President to carry a party membership card. Besides, the next President will naturally be weaker than Putin. The West is convinced that Putin will remain in power behind the scenes. He will most likely become the head of United Russia and replace Medvedev as chairman of the board of directors of Gasprom. In principle, this should be a beneficial situation - a tandem of a card-carrying President Medvedev and United Russia led by Vladimir Putin with a strong say on the country's foreign and domestic policies.

Alexander Rahr, programme director for Russian and CIS affairs at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Medvedev is not another Putin

The election has not produced any surprises. The pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, whose election list was led by President Vladimir Putin, got more than 60pc of the vote. The Kremlin now has a constitutional majority in parliament, but what will it do with this landslide?

How can one interpret the results of "a referendum in support of Vladimir Putin", as the United Party described the election? Russians' appeal for the President to remain in office for a third term was futile. Putin said he would not stay.

Moreover, the result of this "referendum" will not effect the presidential race, in which Putin cannot run. On March 2, Russians will have to elect a new President, which puts additional stress on the authorities. They need to convince people to vote although no programme has been offered to them. The March election cannot be a "referendum in support of Putin".

Some analysts believe the powerful electoral support for Putin at the head of United Russia will have a crucial influence on his future political career, especially because his successor is unlikely to get so many votes in the presidential election. They say this will seal Putin's role as the "national leader". But the dark side is the weakening of the future President's position, and duality of power in Russia.

The logic of power in Russia, traditionally held by the man at the top, will force the "weakened President" to try to regain the full scope of presidential powers. So United Russia's landslide victory in the parliamentary election may be offset by staggering losses and future problems.

Putin early this week endorsed the nomination by four political parties of Dmitry Medvedev as the main presidential candidate. This was predictable. As for Mr Medvedev, he is not a compromise figure for different political factions, and probably he will not be warmly welcomed in some quarters. Medvedev could also be hardly pointed to as a "weak" politician. He is capable of bringing a fresh political style into the Kremlin, different to Putin's. For me he brings to mind the words of Andrey Gromyko, when he nominated Michael Gorbachev to become the general secretary of the party - something like "this guy has a soft character but iron teeth".

Georgy Bovt, political analyst.

If you would like to read more material on these subjects...

CHRIS WEAFER/"RUSSIAN ELECTIONS - JOB DONE"/Russia Profile/Business, New Europe, December 4, 2007/

MATT SIEGEL/AVOIDING THE NATIONALIST VOTE/Russia Profile/Politics, December 5, 2007/

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