When President Dmitry Medvedev first proposed rejiggering the constitution to extend the presidential term of office by two years and that of Duma deputies by one, observers seized on the idea that a preterm presidential election would be called to bring Vladimir Putin back into the Kremlin.
But Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov today offered the relatively novel prediction that the country might also see preterm legislative elections. Although the Kremlin would have to be a little more clever coming up with a reason for repeating elections that were so decisively settled just last December, the change in the deputies' term of office could serve as a pretext.
Zyuganov says new elections could be held in the spring -- and said the reason is purely practical. Because of the financial crisis, Zyuganov told a press conference, Russia's reserves will be exhausted by next November. The resources of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party will run out even sooner. And after they do, Zyuganov said, the authorities won't be able to mount the kind of multimillion-dollar shock-and-awe campaign that we saw last winter and in the presidential election this spring. We know already that Unified Russia has announced plans to cut expenses.
To say nothing of the fact that growing discontent could make it harder to stage-manage the kind of results the authorities want. In the early days of a crisis, it is always easier to wage a "rally-around-the-leadership" campaign, and it is still relatively easy to blame the collapse on the United States.
Normally we might dismiss Zyuganov's analysis as that of a marginalized figure's wishful thinking. But maybe there are other signs that this is indeed the way things are shaping up. After all, for instance, the Kremlin has moved fairly quickly to set up the new right-leaning pro-Kremlin Right Cause party (even to the extent of declaring the party is not responsible for the mountain of debt racked up by the parties that were liquidated to form it) and to take other steps to tidy up the party system.
And just today, Central Election Commission Deputy Chairman Stanislav Vavilov told a CIS conference in St. Petersburg that the international election-monitoring system of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is fatally flawed. According to Vavilov, a new system needs to be articulated by the CIS along the lines of proposals Russia gave to the OSCE this summer. Under that system, monitors should "respect the laws of the states holding elections and show respect for the national organs of power, including the electoral organs." This "respect" for the host state should take the form of letting it determine the format of the mission, its leader, the number of monitors, the period of monitoring, and "all other questions touching on the sovereignty of the country."
It should be recalled that the OSCE did not send monitoring delegations to the last round of Russian legislative and presidential elections because the Russian government tried to impose just these sorts of conditions on its work. That row was a minor inconvenience for the Kremlin and exposed the questionable legitimacy of Russia's electoral system on the international stage. The Election Commission, unable to get the OSCE to revamp its procedures to its liking, now seems to be trying to bolster the dubious authority of the CIS election-monitoring system. Although a CIS seal of approval isn't going to impress anyone in Washington or Brussels, the Kremlin would welcome a bunch of Russian-speaking monitors telling Russian television audiences what a laudable democracy they live in.