The return of the tsar ……
Russia, 2023. Putin and Medvedev are sitting in one of their kitchens, drinking and shooting the breeze. “Listen,” slurs Putin. “I’ve lost track again. Which one of us is prime minister, and which is president?”
“You’re the president now, I think,” slurs Medvedev.
“Well,” slurs Putin, “then it’s your turn to go and get more beer.”
This was one of the famous jokes , that did rounds when Putin decided to honor the Russian constitution ,chose to step down from presidency and handed over the mantle to Medvedev in December 2007. I hated this joke and loathed the people who circulated it , a huge fan of Putin myself(back then) , I was not ready to take any criticism against him.
On Saturday when Putin announced that he would be running for his third presidential term he has proved his critics correct and left some of his admirers (like me )baffled.
If he wins the March 4 election – a near-certainty given his popularity and mastery of Russia’s political system – Putin will return to a presidency even more powerful than when he left. Thanks to the 2008 constitutional amendments, in 2012, the presidential term will be extended to six years from four; he is also eligible to serve two terms which gives him a chance to head Russia till 2024.
Vladimir Putin has done a lot for Russia , after the chaos of 1990’s and Boris Yeltsin’s kleptocracy at the Kremlin it was Putin who has put the house in order. It was he, who consolidated and prevented Russia from breaking up further. His moves , though authoritarian, were so popular with the Russian masses that in 2007 around 90% of the country thought he was the best man to head Russia. Probably Russians must have felt that , that amount of authoritarian measures were need to revive a crumbling nation.
He used the oil reserves of Russia to create the much-needed employment and jobs, this elevated the buying power of ordinary citizens and boosted Putin’s image as a man who brought stability and prosperty to a crisis hit county.His popularity was so high and his measures received such wider acceptance that he was the TimesMagazine’s person of the year for the year 2007.
However , his announcement that he will return to Kremlin as the President of Russia must leave many of his admirers redfaced.I believe with this act these two men are insulting Russia’s Democracy and democratic institutions. Russia’s constitution did not allow Putin to run for a 3rd term in 2008 , he successfully installed his protegé Medvedev then.It was Medvedev who initiated the constitutional reform in 2008 which is giving Putin a chance to be the president of Russia for a six-year term now. Putin managed to do what almost nobody thought possible: to find a protégé who would keep his seat warm without trying to usurp it.If this is not a mockery of democratic institutions then what else is ?
Many people never thought Medvedev was acting on his own , they felt that Putin was the man who was still calling the shots , this time from the prime minister’s office. His recent decision is only confirming their claims and is projecting him as a power-hungry autocrat .
Some analysts believe that he is only hope of Russia , according to them he is the only person capable of arbitrating between the Kremlin’s rival factions, who are locked in a permanent and exhausting battle for money and influence. Without him, the system would fall apart , they opine.however I cannot subscribe to this argument, a person might be good ,he might be the best available , but tampering constitution to support him /help him is never acceptable. As person with immense faith in democracy and democratic institutions , I consider tampering democratic institutions and getting amendments just to keep oneself is power is a heinous crime , after staying in power for about 12 years if one is still wanting more of it ,well, I will not support him.
“The worst thing that can happen to any democracy is having a person at the helm of affairs for a very long time” . An uninterrupted long rule actually keeps all the fresh ideas at bay , gives the person at the helm of affairs a chance to tamper all democratic and constitutional institutions and brings in an authoritarian regime which loses its touch with the people . The probability of this happening in Russia is increasing .we have seen this happen in the middle east and we have seen how people have ousted Mubaraks and Gadhdhafis from their citadels. I doubt if Putin’s decision now might warrant one such revolution in Russia in next 6-8 years.
The reasons for the above doubt of mine are rather simple and clear, people beared with the autocratic and less democratic leaders as long as economies were good and jobs were there .The moment people realised that growth is going southwards , the very same old faithful people rebelled and ousted their rulers forcefully,one of they reasons they told for this was that these leaders were never truly democratic themselves to continue in office.
On this day Putin is the most popular leader of Russia ,he is not as popular as he was in 2008 but he is the numero uno man of Russia today.As he takes over as the president next year he will be working in a country which desperately needs to diversify its economy from Oil and hydrocarbon industry, he is going to inherit a nation where the corruption weary businessmen are taking the capital out of the country, a stagnated economy which is slowly falling short of the nations expenses and the dwindling markets and pan european recession are going to complicate things further . It would be interesting to see how Putin generates Jobs and achieves a healthy growth rate for Russia under these circumstances.Should he fail , the key question shifts from “whether he intends to stay till 2024”, to “will he be able to stay till 2024?”.