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The Vanishing President

Medvedev’s Political Legacy is Disappearing in the State Duma Dmitry Medvedev meets with United Russia Party leaders By Andrew Roth Russia Profile 02/16/2012

Pressure is mounting in the State Duma against a key set of initiatives that President Dmitry Medvedev is lobbying as his term in office rapidly comes to a close. Medvedev made modernization a hallmark of his administration and has promised to push far reaching political reforms in his final months as president, but top politicians and bureaucrats are taking aim at blocking and reversing laws to introduce direct elections of governors and limit government pressure on businesses. Analysts noted that politicians and others in the government have already begun erasing Medvedev’s legacy in anticipation of Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.

Medvedev announced his intentions to loosen the government’s grip over political life in Russia in his annual address to the Parliament in late December last year, where he called for easing the registration process for political parties, establishing public television and returning the direct election of regional governors. Today he took the latest step in fulfilling those plans by submitting a bill to the State Duma to establish proportional representation for 225 electoral districts and to ease registration for smaller opposition parties before the next parliamentary elections.

The law will likely face an uphill battle in the Duma. As Medvedev tried to promote his final liberal agenda, a series of laws and initiatives passed under his presidency came under fire from high-ranking politicians. While the most sensational of these was Medvedev’s decision to eliminate daylight savings time in Russia – an initiative that threw many for a loop and forced Putin to offer to reverse the controversial move – far more substantial projects are under threat as well.

Chief among these was a law introduced by Medvedev to limit government pressure on businesses by restricting the right to launch tax probes to only the Federal Tax Service. Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin savaged the law and asked for its repeal on the organization’s official Web site this week, saying that the Tax Service lacked the adequate means to battle tax evasion. “No more than eight percent of crimes emerge as a result of checks by the tax service. The overwhelming majority of crimes (close to 85 percent) were uncovered by the Interior Ministry,” he wrote on the committee’s Web site.

The recent trend shows that key politicians and bureaucrats are clearly taking their cues from Putin and not from Medvedev, said Alexey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies. “Deputies are already thinking about the next president, who needs as much support as possible from the people to win in the first round. So Medvedev’s initiatives that have been passed but remain unpopular in the country are being thrown away to increase Putin’s ratings,” said Makarkin.

The situation is growing worse for Medvedev. Today, United Russia members voted to amend a law to reintroduce direct elections for regional governors, tacking on a requirement that all candidates pass through a mandatory “presidential filter.” The issue has been a lightning rod for criticism from the opposition, who say that the law helps maintain the administration’s stranglehold over regional politics. The recent opposition protests pushed both Medvedev and Putin to consider reestablishing direct gubernatorial elections, but with a key caveat: Putin supported the “filter,” essentially a right to veto the candidate.

Though Medvedev did not contradict Putin directly over the issue, he left out the “presidential filter” when he introduced the law for discussion last month. Yuri Korganyuk of the INDEM think tank thinks that the “filter” would be an important tool for Putin in his next term, when there would be more pressure “to control which politicians could control positions of power.” 

United Russia’s backing of the amendment shows that Medvedev can’t rely heavily on the party’s support. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky recently told the BBC that the situation was actually far more dire for Medvedev, and that his legacy and role as a politician would be minimal after the March elections: “Medvedev’s political fate has no meaning for Russia. Medvedev committed political suicide on September 24, 2011 [when he declined to run for president] and should be buried as a politician. Russia doesn’t need Medvedev in his current form. Whether he becomes a vice president, prime minister or physical education teacher... for me personally, as a citizen of the Russian Federation, it doesn’t matter.”

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