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Despite financial crisis, a national security emergency in Chechnya, and cabinet instability, Russian voters unexpectedly supported the status quo. The elected lawmakers prepared to cooperate with the executive branch, a gift that had eluded President Boris Yeltsin since he imposed a post-Soviet constitution by referendum in 1993. When Yeltsin retired six months in advance of schedule, the presidential mantle went to Vladimir Putin—a career KGB officer who fused new and old ways of doing politics. Putin was easily elected President in his own right.
This book demonstrates key trends in an extinct superpower, a troubled country in whose stability, modernization, and openness to the international community the West still has a huge stake.
About the Author:
Timothy J. Colton is professor of government and Russian studies in the Department of Government and director of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University. His previous books include Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis (Harvard, 1995), named best book in government and political science 1995 by the Association of American Publishers.
Michael McFaul is the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also an associate professor of political science at Stanford University and a nonresident associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
This book is a tale of linked political events: a pair of recent elections in the heir to an extinct superpower, a troubled nation in whose stability, modernization, and openness to the global community the West still has a huge stake. A multitude of players jockeyed for advantage there. One particular group, to the amazement of most involved and the consternation of some, prevailed. We aim to explain how and why that happened and what difference it makes to the country, its postcommunist transition, and us on the outside.
Twice in the winter of 1999-2000, 75 million citizens of Russia flocked to their neighborhood voting stations. After a decade of rule by Boris Yeltsin, ordinary people had a say in who would lead them for the better part of the next decade. They scratched their ballots in an atmosphere crackling with uncertainty, rancor, and fear. Yeltsin's precarious health and erratic decisionmaking had marred his second term, begun in 1996. He was helpless in August 1998 to forestall a crippling financial crisis that saw the treasury default on its sovereign debt, the ruble shed four-fifths of its value, and dozens of banks shut their doors. Although Russians had lived with hardship ever since marketization and privatization were launched in the early 1990s, this episode, as Yeltsin recounted later, was unique in the pain it inflicted on the winners in the reform process: "The worst of it was that it hit the barely born middle class ... the property owners, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and professionals.... All this had been undertaken for their sake. These people were my main base of support." Desperate to right the ship, Yeltsin fired one prime minister in March of 1998 as the fiasco loomed large, another when it was in full swing that summer, and a third the following spring, just as output indices rebounded. Every dismissal triggered a confrontation with the State Duma, the paramount lower house of the Federal Assembly, over confirming a replacement. In May 1999 Yeltsin narrowly foiled a bill of impeachment in the Duma; a sign of the times was that one of the five counts was for "genocide against the Russian people." The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) air war against Serbia, protested but not averted by Russian diplomacy, struck another nerve. And on Russia's doorstep, the three-year-old truce in the North Caucasus hotspot of Chechnya crumbled amid recrimination, border raids, and abductions. In June 1999, Chechen gunmen, now hoisting the green banner of militant Islam, began infiltrating villages in Dagestan, an adjoining republic of the Russian Federation.
The anxiety quotient rose higher still on August 9, 1999, when Yeltsin axed a fourth prime minister and appointed a little-known Kremlin bureaucrat, Vladimir Putin, as acting premier, subject to ratification by the Duma, which it granted on August 16. To general incredulity, Yeltsin declared he wished Putin to succeed him as president in 2000, calling him "the person who is able to consolidate society and, drawing support from the broadest political forces, ensure the continuation of reforms in Russia." In early September the violence in Chechnya and Dagestan spread into the heartland. Three hundred lives were snuffed out in nighttime terror bombings of apartment houses in Moscow and two southern towns; the Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have evidence incriminating pro-Chechen fanatics. Having limited itself to counterinsurgency in Dagestan, the Kremlin now decided to send tanks and tens of thousands of troops barreling into Chechnya to crush the resistance.
Against this ominous backdrop-with a national security emergency, cabinet instability, and burning memories of the 1998 financial crash overshadowing a whiff of economic recovery-Russians on December 19, 1999, voted for representatives to the 450-seat State Duma. They chose half of the members from lists of candidates served up by parties and equivalent organizations (in this volume we often employ "party" as shorthand for all these entities) and half in single-member territorial districts. The doom and gloom notwithstanding, antigovernment groups made no headway. Instead, a majority of the mandates went to lawmakers prepared to cooperate with the executive branch, a gift that had eluded the president since the election of the first post-Soviet Duma in December 1993. Yeltsin, alternately jubilant and tearful, took to the airwaves on December 31 to announce he was going into retirement six months in advance of schedule and was transferring interim power to Putin. On March 26, 2000, the dark horse who had scraped along at 2 percent in the polls in August was elected to a four-year presidential term.
Why Putin? For Yeltsin, it did not hurt that Putin was a hawk on Chechnya, had shepherded the army operation there, and was willing in a maiden decree as acting president to extend him immunity from criminal prosecution for acts in office. The connection between patron and client ran deeper, however. A career foreign intelligence officer and the director of the FSB before being named premier, Putin was the latest in a string of military and security professionals to gain the favor of the patriarch. Their function in Yeltsin's eyes was to stem the centrifugal and disorderly forces in the governance of Russia that he, wearing the hat of crusader against Soviet tyranny, had earlier done the most to unleash. Revisiting private musings he had had in 1998, and skirting the ironies, Yeltsin says in his memoirs he "had been sensing for some while that the demand was growing in society for imparting a new quality to our state, a steel core, as it were, that would shore up the political structure of government." Needed at the helm was "a thinking, democratic, and innovative person, yet one who was firm in the military manner." After a false start or two, Yeltsin found that metallic core in Putin.
No sooner was the champagne downed at his inauguration on May 7 than President Putin set about nudging Russia's polity toward what his detractors and some of his admirers dubbed a "managed democracy" (upravlyayemaya demokratiya, in Russian). From his opening gambit in Chechnya, Putin initiated change in domains as various as federalism, the secret services, the mass media, parliamentary procedures, government-business relations, and the party system. His moves did not always delight pensioner Yeltsin. Towering over all was a chief who fused the "military manner" Yeltsin fancied and the mien of "a manager of the Western type, a manager who calmly, without extra talk, solves problems."
The elections, then, afforded Putin his golden opportunity to pull off a transition within the Russian transition. As Russia continued to make the tumultuous and protracted shift from communist rule to a different political and economic system, leadership of the process changed hands for the first time since it began, with a subsequent shift in course. Economically, the new leader set a more liberal agenda than his predecessor had: he buttressed private ownership, let capitalists be capitalists by whittling down the government's role, reduced taxes, balanced the budget, and improved the investment climate. Politically, Putin was more illiberal: favoring a more meddlesome, more coercive, and less accountable state, he worked to constrict flows of information and opinion and, when all is said and done, to reduce political competition and freedom. Complicating any Western reaction to these moves, the 1999-2000 elections also dealt Putin carte blanche to overhaul foreign policy, and he used it in ways that the United States and most Euro- Atlantic governments commended. The thaw in relations with Washington after September 11, 2001, would have been much harder to achieve without Putin in the Kremlin.
For Russians, the twin election campaigns in 1999 and 2000 commingled the expected and the unexpected. It was old hat when the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) pocketed the most votes for the Duma, as it had four years before, and 20 million people backed its chairman, Gennadii Zyuganov, for president. Evening after evening from November 19 to December 17, 1999, television screens glowed with familiar faces-Zyuganov, for one, or Grigorii Yavlinskii of the Yabloko party, or Vladimir Zhirinovskii of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)-mouthing well-rehearsed sales pitches. The elections featured a plethora of often-obscure warriors: twenty-six parties (and quasi parties) on the national ballot in December, eleven candidates for president in March. That, too, was a spectacle to which Russians were acclimated, as forty-three parties had vied for the Duma in 1995 and ten politicians for president in 1996. In 155 of the 224 local Duma districts-district 31, in Chechnya, was dormant because of the war-an incumbent stood for reelection.
As eloquent a case could be made that the novel and the unforeseen defined the tenor of the elections. The glut of players was a constant; on the ballot slip, the bulk of the actual names were new. Among the national lists put up for the Duma, there were nineteen newcomers for the seven retreads from the 1995 campaign (the KPRF, Yabloko, the LDPR, and four smaller groups). Ninety-three percent of the single-mandate nominees had not represented districts in the previous Duma. The only survivors from 1996 among the presidential hopefuls were Zyuganov, Yavlinskii, and Zhirinovskii.
The jarring surprise in 1999-2000 was not who was in the fray but who snatched victory. Virtually all pundits were caught unaware. Indicative of the unpreparedness is a sentence in a St. Petersburg political scientist's preview of the Duma campaign in September: "Judging by the initial lineup of candidates, the 1999 campaign does not look to hold any large surprises." The surprises turned out to be large and plentiful.
Anticipation was well nigh unanimous that pro-government candidates would be drubbed and that the centrist bloc assembled by Yurii Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, would challenge the KPRF for primacy in the Duma. Luzhkov's electoral front stitched together the Fatherland movement he founded in 1998 with a grouping known as All Russia, the brainchild of some regional governors. In a crowning moment, he recruited the popular elder statesman Yevgenii Primakov, one of the four prime ministers Yeltsin sacked in 1998-99, to head the Fatherland-All Russia ticket (generally known by its Russian acronym, OVR, for Otechestvo-Vsya Rossiya). With its vague platform and its tentacles in officialdom and in business circles tied to it, OVR bore a more than passing resemblance to Our Home Is Russia (NDR, Nash Dom Rossiya), the party sired in 1995 by then prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The shoe did not fit in one crucial regard: OVR was anathema to the president and his entourage, who accused Mayor Luzhkov of disloyalty and an indecent haste to shove Yeltsin aside. Being on the outs with the Kremlin did not necessarily dull OVR's luster. It was frequently held to be the trump card that, coupled with its image of competence, would equip OVR to sweep all before it. One article handicapping the forthcoming elections in September heralded Fatherland-All Russia as Russia's "new electoral powerhouse ... the favorite to gain the largest number of seats in the Duma and to provide the winning presidential candidate in summer 2000." "Primakov's popularity, Fatherland's organization, and the governors' political machines are formidable assets. The bloc is also full of self-proclaimed 'proven managers' who can sell the ... message that prudence and competence, not youth and economic theory, are the keys to Russian revival." Another writer found the outlook so rosy that "the greatest uncertainty about OVR has to do with the bloc's activity beyond the elections rather than with balloting results." It would have to decide, for instance, with whom to ally to form a controlling majority in the Duma and whether to propose Primakov or Luzhkov for president.
Only as nominations went down to the wire did OVR's nemesis make its debut. The pro-government slate going by the name of Unity was the newest and nimblest of the "parties of power" that have suited up in Russia's political wars since 1993. It was at the outset as much scoffed at as OVR was lionized. A report on business magnate Boris Berezovskii's tour of the Russian hinterland in August, to sound out his contacts on the feasibility of such a bloc, painted it as "one of the more comic episodes of the election season so far." The report was captioned "A Failed Bloc." A respected political analyst and consultant, Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies, predicted in early October, on the heels of Unity's founding congress and its selection of cabinet minister Sergei Shoigu as leader, that it would snag "1-2 percent, a maximum of 3 percent" of the vote. Another article in early October, noting that Unity "violates almost every property of a political party" (true enough), said its one hope for seats in the Duma was to partner with Chernomyrdin's NDR. If it did, the tandem "will not be striving for first place, nor even for second place in the election race: those places are reserved for Fatherland-All Russia and the KPRF." A published essay a month later took notice of a spike in Unity's ratings, only to brush it off as having "no chance of catching up with the current leaders." Ten days before the election Bunin forecast "up to 8 percent" for the bloc, and Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center 8 or 9 percent. December 19 was to expose these ruminations, too, as wide of the mark.
The ultimate victor in 1999-2000 was, of course, Vladimir Putin, who at the age of forty-eight had never before campaigned for elective office, although he did have experience-severely distasteful to him-in election contests in St. Petersburg. His meteoric rise coincided with the Duma campaign, which the Kremlin team and OVR alike viewed as the Russian version of a U.S. presidential primary. Unknown to all but inveterate Kremlin-watchers until Yeltsin appointed him premier, Putin had been ignored in the crystal ball-gazing about the succession. His promotion in August left intact the suspicion that he was somehow not presidential timber. An American newsletter on Russian politics opined: "Few observers give this low-profile administrator, who once worked as a spy in East Germany, much chance of becoming president. Not only has he never proven himself as a major public figure, but Yeltsin's endorsement is widely seen as a kiss of political death." Curiosity was piqued only in mid-autumn, when polls showed his star to be on the rapid ascent, mostly, it was felt, because of his handling of the Chechnya imbroglio.
Excerpted from Popular Choice and Managed Democracy by Timothy J. Colton Copyright © 2003 by Timothy J. Colton. Excerpted by permission.
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|1||Introduction: The Transition within the Transition||1|
|2||Setting the Scene||15|
|3||The Party of Power||47|
|4||The Party of Hubris||79|
|8||Results, Consequences, and Implications for U.S. Policy||198|
|App. A||The Survey Work||230|
|App. B||A Statistical Model of the Vote||232|
|App. C||The Mass Media and the Elections||241|
|App. D||Tracing the Flow of the Vote||247|