Speculation is rife whether President Dmitri Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will end up running next year in Russia’s presidential election. The supposed rivalry between a youthful reformer and his conservative mentor makes for welcome intrigue in a country where competing political views have long gone missing from the public discourse.
Putin, Russia’s president from 2000 to 2008, handpicked Medvedev from his Kremlin entourage because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive presidential terms. Now Putin could legally return to the presidency two more times — conceivably holding office until 2024, since one of Medvedev’s first legislative initiatives was to extend presidential terms from four years to six.
The partners in the so-called ruling tandem have left open which one of them will run for president next March, reacting with a mixture of irritation and embarrassment when journalists confront them with “the 2012 question.”
All the two leaders are willing to reveal is that they’ll reach a decision together, at the appropriate time. A premature announcement, Putin said in April, would cause half the government to stop working in anticipation of changes at the top.
While the choice between Medvedev, 45, and Putin, 58, may affect the career paths of individual ministers, it won’t change anything for ordinary Russians. For one, the two leaders themselves have repeatedly rejected the notion that there are significant differences between them. More importantly, it’s a foregone conclusion that the candidate with Putin’s name — or endorsement — will win the presidency. The top-down “power vertical” that Putin built as president endures, guaranteeing election results and locking out genuine opponents. Of Russia’s more than 100 million eligible voters, Putin has essentially become the only one whose voice counts.
Not even Medvedev, officially Putin’s boss, has much say. Plucked from obscurity, he owes his current job entirely to Putin. Although Medvedev made modernization of Russia’s corrupt, oil-based economy the catchword of his presidency, he has little to show for his efforts. More than once he has presided over tragicomic government meetings complaining that ministers ignore his orders. If Medvedev vanished from the political scene tomorrow, he wouldn’t leave a trace. He is a president without ambition, a power base or an electorate.
Russians expected more of democracy when they flocked to their first presidential elections 20 years ago this summer. After seven decades of Communist dictatorship, they were eager for a chance to determine their own destiny. They overwhelmingly elected Boris Yeltsin, an ex-Communist apparatchik who had embraced the cause of free-market, democratic reform. The euphoria didn’t last long, however, as the chaotic transition to capitalism plunged the country into poverty and pessimism.
Full Article: Russia’s Approaching Nonelection – NYTimes.com.