Vienna, April 20 – The tandemocracy in Russia today, one in which there are two centers of power – one around President Dmitry Medvedev and a second around Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – could open the way to political pluralism, but it could also lead to the kind of “dual power” which destroyed Russia in 1917 and the Soviet Union in 1991.
The outcome depends, the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say in an unsigned lead article today, on the question of the legitimacy of the leaders in the eyes of the population, something both Medvedev and Putin now have but that their competing predecessors in the dual power situations of 1917 and 1991 did not (www.ng.ru/editorial/2010-04-20/2_red.html).
In those earlier cases, the editors write, the state collapsed but this happened “not as a result of polycentric power but from the paradoxes of legal consciousness. The Soviets [in 1917] were completely illegitimate, but the Provision Government allowed power to flow out of its own hands.”
And in 1991, “the Gorbachev regime was completely constitutional but dissolved before the legitimacy of the popularly elected president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.” Consequently, however much commentators may want to play with these “spectral” comparisons, the situation is very different.
“The powers that be have become polycentric,” the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” say, adding “That sounds good.” But even if one assumes that the tandem will not inevitably lead to a dual power situation that could threaten the country, one must face the possibility that the tandem will not inevitably lead to the institutionalization of political pluralism.
“Of course,” they write, “it would be good to have pluralism in the legislative branch of power considering the monolithic quality of the ranks of the executive one. They tried, but it didn’t happen.” And the editors observe that “direct paths in politics are not always the truest ones.”
But they point out that there is something disturbing or at least something that cannot continue forever in the current situation, one in which one center is supported by the Putin-allied NASHI youth group and the other by scholars associated with the Institute of Contemporary Development which serves as a source of ideas for Medvedev.
This division within the tandem, the paper suggests, could lead to a split within the liberals and democrats, not so much “out of personal ambition” as in the past but rather “for principled considerations,” an obvious “step forward” but one that could nonetheless lead to a weakening of the opposition.
For Russians, the paper says, “the question of principle is how long can the tandem exist in its current form? It is obvious that one is talking not about retirements or even about the configuration of personalities. Prime Minister Y can exist under President X as well as the reverse.”
“Theoretically,” the editors say, “even if X and Y take part in an electoral struggle, the loser could become the prime minister in a government where the victor served as prime minister, especially if the votes were divided almost in equal proportions. We know that these contradictions are not fatal.”
“But in the second case, this would be another country with a genuine competition of points of view. The politicians would be the same, but all politics would be different.” And that is where the problem lies: “such a transformation of the tandem into pluralism is a risky step. On the other hand, [however,] there are two years left before the elections.”
The “Nezavismaya gazeta” editorial is important for three reasons. First, it highlights the way in which some thoughtful commentators in Moscow now view the competition between Medvedev and Putin evolving. Second, it suggests that the real clashes between the two may come far sooner than many expect. And third, it calls attention to a trap for the opposition.
If the opposition divides as well it might along the ideological divide the two leaders of the tandem currently divide, the opposition will be weakened as a political force. But if it does not take sides, especially when they are clearly articulated, then the opposition may find itself increasingly irrelevant, an outcome that one or both of the members of the tandem may want.