Dmitry Medvedev strolled to presidential victory in Russia this week. Medvedev, who is Vladimir Putin’s former chief of staff, won 70% of the vote. His nearest competitor, Gennady Zyuganov, who is the leader of the Communist Party, gained only 17.8%. Medvedev’s victory comes as no surprise to observers. His victory was essentially sealed when Putin gave his official backing to his candidacy in December 2007. It is hoped by Western governments that Medvedev will create a more liberal and moderate atmosphere in the Kremlin – much unlike his predecessor, whose appalling record on human rights has occupied headlines around the world for the past eight years.
During the voting period, Kremlin officials were apparently so concerned about voter turnout that they resorted to tempting citizens to voting booths with the sale of food at one-tenth of its usual price. Voter indifference appeared to be rife across the emerging middle-class. Many were apathetic towards the coming election, indicating that as long as the recent economic boom enjoyed under Putin continues, they would be happy.
Another reason for the lack of interest was the apparent foregone conclusion of the result. Many Russians felt that the election was one-sided and unfair. The former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who was disqualified from the poll, told reporters that he believed a conspiracy was the driving force behind Medvedev’s election win: ‘This is a secret service KGB operation to transfer power from one person to another’ he said.
In the Moscow suburb of Butovo, heads turned as Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-KGB agent who is accused by UK police of murdering Alexander Litvenyenko, made his way from a fortified entourage to the voting booth. Lugovoi belongs to the far-right Liberal Democrat party, and has parliamentary immunity from prosecution. British police believe that they have sufficient evidence to prosecute the businessman for the murder of Litvenyenko. However the Russian Government refuse to extradite him, stating that extradition is ‘against the constitution’. The tense relations between the UK and Russia have led to diplomats from both countries being recalled from their host countries in Summer 2007.
So what now for Putin? The stony-eyed ex-spy need not worry, for now. Medvedev will announce Putin as the new Prime Minister when he is inaugurated as President in May. Putin is barred from seeking a third term as President. Anticipating this, a deal was struck with Medvedev to make Putin Prime Minister should Medvedev win the election.
What has been made clear by Putin is that he plans to use his new position to continue his influence over Russia. He has frequently insisted that Medvedev will persist with the policies and agenda of the Putin-led Kremlin, and not pursue his own goals off-track from his predecessors. Medvedev has obediently agreed with this.
But for how long? It would appear that the power struggle might of already begun.
In a February press conference, Putin declared that the Prime Minister will hold the ‘highest executive power’ in the land. However, a few days later, in a magazine interview, Medvedev resolutely stated that ‘the President rules Russia, and according to the constitution, there is only one President’.
Russia’s constitution currently gives control of domestic and foreign policy to the President – and also the power to discharge the Prime Minister.
Boris Nemtsoy, a former Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin, told reporters that ‘conflict between Medvedev and Putin is inevitable, but the tradition in Russia is that the one who is in the Kremlin holds all the power. If Medvedev is in the Kremlin, then he will win this battle between President and Prime Minister.”
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This post was written by Chris Bath