blogenlust
9.14.2004

Putin's power grab


I think it is fair to say that Putin has crossed the line.
President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a stunning overhaul of Russia's political system on Monday in what he called an effort to unite the country against terrorism. If enacted, as expected, the proposals would strengthen his already pervasive control over the legislative branch and regional governments. Mr. Putin, meeting in special session with cabinet ministers and regional government leaders, outlined what would be the most sweeping political overhaul - and his most striking single step to consolidate power - in Russia in more than a decade. Critics immediately said it would violate the Constitution and stifle what political opposition remains. Under Mr. Putin's proposals, which he said required only legislative approval and not constitutional amendments, the governors or leaders of the country's 89 regions would no longer be elected by popular vote but rather by local legislatures - and only after the president's nomination. Seats in the lower house of the federal Parliament, or Duma, would be elected entirely on national party slates, eliminating district races across the country that now decide half of Parliament's composition. In elections last December, those races accounted for all of the independents and liberals now serving in the Duma.
This will have no effects on Russia's ability to fight terrorism. Imagine if after 9/11, Bush declared that state governor's would no longer be democratically elected because he felt it was the best way to fight terrorism. It would have been a ridiculous assertion, and the only thing it would do is centralize Bush's power and give him carte blanche for all of his policies (which is pretty much what happened anyway). Putin is making a power grab and using the Chechen terrorist attacks as political cover. He probably figures that keeping Russia a valuable ally in the War on Terror will keep the US and Europe from voicing too much dissent. He's probably right, and any dreams of a democratic Russia have just taken a serious blow.