WILL PRIME MINISTER PUTIN SERVE AT THE PLEASURE OF PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV?
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 40
As of 10 am, Moscow time, on March 3, Russia’s Central Election Commission was reporting that with more than 99% of the votes in the March 2 presidential election counted, President Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, won 70.23% of the vote. That means 51,938,974 Russians voted for Medvedev, which is more than the 49,565,238 Russians that voted for Putin when he was re-elected president in 2004. According to the same preliminary results, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov came in second, with 17.76% of the vote, followed by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky (9.37%), and Democratic Party leader Andrei Bogdanov (1.29%) (Cikrf.ru, March 3). Turnout – again, according to preliminary results – was 69.61%, compared with 64.38% in the 2004 presidential election (Newsru.com, March 3). Municipal elections were also held around Russia on March 2.
As with the State Duma elections last December 2, some observers are questioning the legitimacy of both the turnout numbers and the size of the vote for Medvedev, and there have already been numerous charges of falsification. “The limit of turnout was shown in the parliamentary election in December,” said political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. “If the turnout for the presidential election … ends up higher than for the parliamentary [election], then that should be put down to administrative resources.” Alexei Makarkin, general director of the Center for Political Technologies, said the authorities wanted a high turnout, among other things, to ensure that the next presidential campaign in 2012 can be carried out without problems “regardless of who will be the presidential candidate” (RBK Daily, March 3).
As Newsru.com noted, journalists, activists of opposition political parties, and human rights groups reported violations of electoral law across Russia on March 2. The website reported, for example, that the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Yabloko party, Maxim Reznik, was detained by police on the evening on March 2 and that his detention may have been connected to an interview he gave to 100 TV, a local television station, in which he claimed that Yabloko activists around the country had been able to get ballots without presenting the required identification simply by telling election officials that they planned to vote for Medvedev. According to Reznik, Yabloko activists in Murmansk “went to seven voting stations and said: We are from Murmansk and we can’t vote because we don’t have propiskas [residency permits] or absentee certifications, but we have passports and a huge desire to vote for Dmitry Anatolevich Medvedev.” They were given ballots at all seven polling stations, Reznik said. Likewise, in Moscow, the leader of the Yabloko youth wing, Ilya Yashin, went to seven polling stations with a young Yabloko activist from Murmansk, Dmitry Volov, who told officials he was unable to get an absentee ballot in Murmansk but wanted to vote for Medvedev while in Moscow. Volov was given ballots at five of the seven polling stations (Newsru.com, March 3).
Fair or not, Medvedev’s overwhelming victory in the presidential election is a fait accompli, and analysts are focusing on questions as to how he will rule in tandem with Vladimir Putin as his prime minister (see EDM, February 27).
Medvedev gave some hints of his own take on this issue on the evening of March 2, during his first post-election press conference. Asked who will determine the strategy and parameters of foreign policy and whether the prime minister will be working in the Kremlin, Medvedev answered: “That is probably the simplest question to answer of those that have been asked today. According to the constitution of the Russian Federation, foreign policy is determined by the president. That’s first of all. Second: the office of the president, his permanent location, is the Kremlin. The permanent location of the government and chairman of the government [the prime minister] is the [Russian] White House.” Medvedev also said that he does not plan to redistribute the powers of the president and prime minister, stating that each position has its own powers flowing from the constitution and legislation and that “no one is planning to change them.”
Medvedev’s interpretation of the distribution of powers between the president and the prime minister may eventually come into conflict with that of Putin, at least judging by some of the Putin’s recent comments suggesting that he sees his future role as prime minister as something more than the one strictly defined by Russia’s constitution and legislation. Noteworthy in this regard were the comments he made during his marathon December 14 press conference, in which he asserted that while the president is “the head of state, guarantor of the Constitution, and sets the main domestic and foreign policy guidelines,” the “highest executive power in the country is in the hands of the government” (see EDM, February 20).
In that same press conference, Putin was asked if he does indeed become prime minister, will he view it as a “transitional” post or does he hope to stay in it for some time “if the new boss likes your work.” Putin responded: “The post of chairman of the government of the Russian Federation cannot be transitional. It gives the opportunity for self-realization and for the achievement of very large goals that stand before the country. And if this happens, then I, of course, will work with the same efficiency as when I worked as president of the Russian Federation.”
Russia’s constitution, of course, gives the president the power to pick and remove prime ministers. Yet any acknowledgement that, as prime minister, he will be serving at the president’s pleasure was notably absent from Putin’s response.