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The Speaker Vs. The President


United Russia party's leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov

United Russia party's leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov

President Dmitry Medvedev said he wants more parties represented in parliament. Not so fast, replied State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.

As I noted in my last post, in his recent interview with "The Financial Times," Medvedev came out in favor of lowering the barrier for parties to win seats in the Duma from the current seven percent of the party list vote to 5 -- or even 3 -- percent.

Today, Russian news agencies quoted Gryzlov as saying that he discussed the issue with Medvedev and the leadership of the ruling United Russia party. "The president stressed that this issue is important for small parties," Gryzlov said, but added that the Duma will not have time to consider the changes before the end of the year. "This is a question for the next State Duma to consider."

Which means, of course, that there will not be any changes before the December elections -- which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the idea of lowering the barrier.

Speaking to "Novye izvestia," Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin noted that the speaker had essentially challenged the president:

It is common knowledge after all that our Duma adopts amendments to some laws in all three readings in a single day. And what do we see here? United Russia plainly shows that political competition is the last thing in the world it wants. After all, a good deal of political parties including Yabloko would scale a 3 percent or 5 percent barrier given half a chance.

This is actually a long-standing battle that has been going on long before Medvedev decided to weigh in.

Back in the summer of 2009, Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov raised eyebrows when he suggested that United Russia -- which enjoys a two-thirds "constitutional majority in the Duma -- needed to learn to cooperate with other parties:

We believe that once a system has settled, there should be more degrees of freedom inside it. One should be flexible, one should learn to enter into coalitions. Democracy is a compromise. Democracy is a procedure. It's a tedious one, but it's a procedure.

Gryzlov quickly made it clear that he wasn't interested. "Our parliament of the majority based on one party is a necessity for Russia...The parliamentary majority allows us to adopt laws that determine political and economic stability," he said.

Of course, Surkov's two-year-old idea, which Medvedev appears to support, isn't about letting real opposition parties like Yabloko into the Duma. The Justice Ministry's refusal to register the opposition Party of People's Freedom (known by its Russian acronym PARNAC), made that abundantly clear.

What Medvedev's proposal is really about is assuring that the Kremlin's latest housebroken "opposition" party, Right Cause, does enter the next Duma. But Right Cause leaders don't appear concerned about lowering the barrier, at least publicly.

"We will surely poll more than 7 percent, so that this barrier is nothing to lose any sleep over," Boris Nadezhdin, a member of Right Cause's Federal Political Council, told "Novye izvestia."

Nadezhdin is probably right, as long as the party enjoys Kremlin support, according to Stanislav Belkovsky, director to the Institute of National Strategy. "Whomever the Kremlin wants in the Duma will be there in any event. As for all others, I do not think that they will be permitted to poll even percent," he told "Novye izvestia."

So what is behind the public disagreement between Medvedev and Gryzlov (and the public disagreement between Surkov and Gryzlov that preceded it)?

Apparently an argument in the ruling elite about moving toward a system of managed pluralism that would allow more players into the system -- which would cut into United Russia's dominance -- or maintaining the status quo.

Medvedev's position (and that of Surkov) represents that of the technocratic side of the elite, while Gryzlov's is closer to that of the siloviki.

Medvedev's decision to weigh in on this in such a public way suggests that the managed pluralism advocates are in ascendancy. Gryzlov's response suggests that the status quo advocates haven't given up yet.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

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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