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The Popular Front's 'Liberal' Platform

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the United Russia party regional conference in Yekaterinburg on June 30, 2011.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the United Russia party regional conference in Yekaterinburg on June 30, 2011.

This just in from the department of things that caused me to say "Huh?!?"

It appears that got a peek at a draft of the Popular Front's electoral program -- and it is surprisingly "liberal," calling for preserving the popular election of mayors, instituting the election of top judges, a simplification of the rules governing the registration of political parties, and a return to single mandate districts in State Duma elections.

Moreover, it calls for the federal government and bureaucracy to be moved outside of Moscow.

It's just a draft and it will no doubt go through revisions. But it is nevertheless a bit eye-popping.

The 100-page program, drafted by the Institute of Social, Economic and Political Studies, argues that the authoritarian measures of the past decade were necessary given Russia's dire circumstances when Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000:

"Due to its history, Russia was put in the position where it needed to consolidate society, fight regional separatism and individual oligarchs who had impunity. This was necessary to ensure rapid economic growth. We can say that the last ten years we have lived under the laws of the mobilization of development."

The draft program goes on to say that these efforts have "largely paid off" and that it was now "possible to maintain political unity and territorial integrity."

The next step, the authors argue, is to increase political competition and assure that the authorities are more accountable to citizens:

"In a democracy, politics is the result of competition, people and ideas. In recent years we have reduced the ability to influence society to power," the authors argue, according to "Today we face new challenges that require the development of private initiative and further development of political competition."

In addition to calling for the preservation of mayoral elections -- one of the last vestiges of democracy in Russia, which has come under threat of late -- the document also calls for revamping the system of electing the State Duma, going back to the mixed system of the 1990s that combined single mandate districts and party lists.

Additionally, the draft program harshly criticizes "the ever-growing appetite for officials of different ranks to outdo each other in acquiring prestigious offices and cars, and arrange comfort and opulence for themselves at the expense of public funds." It calls for "reducing the cost of maintaining the government at all levels."

Finally, the document calls for moving most of the federal bureaucracy outside of Moscow:

"All federal agencies, including the presidential administration, the government, the State Duma, and the Federation Council should be moved from Moscow and placed in the same complex. The walking distance between these buildings should be no more than 15 minutes. The Moscow Kremlin should be turned into a public cultural and historical center and the area around it to turned into a pedestrian zone. This project will be a historic decision with the global importance and will be popular among Muscovites and all Russians."

Now if this how the Popular Front's platform emerges in its final form, I'll eat my hat. In fact, expect this to be watered down considerably (and the proposals as they are, while progressive by the standards of today's ruling elite, are pretty modest by any international standards of democracy).

But nevertheless, the fact that a proposal like this came out of Putin's Popular Front at all is quite telling. It shows that the push for some form of "managed pluralism" post-2012 is quite strong indeed. What surprised me here is that I expected Mikhail Prokhorov and Right Cause to be holding down the (Kremlin-approved) "liberal" flank this political season.

Apparently they won't be alone.

And it also shows that Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev are actually more on the same page than much of the recent conventional wisdom suggests -- which should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog.

-- Brian Whitmore

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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