1993 Constitution blamed for Russia's leadership problems
Archived Articles 24 Aug 2006 Paul GobleEWR
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VIENNA — The Russian Constitution adopted in December 1993 is to blame for Russia's current leadership problems not because it limits President Vladimir Putin to two terms but because its provisions have allowed both him and his government to ignore the will of the people, according to a leading Moscow analyst.

In an article in the current issue of "Politicheskiy zhurnal," Boris Vishnevskiy argues that the current debate about whether the constitution should be amended to allow Putin to serve past his current term misses the real problems arising from that document (www.politjournal.ru/preview.ph... 2).

The 1993 constitution, he continues, have creaded "a system, the chief goal of which is to allow the government to operate entirely independently of society." That was obvious at the time the Constitution was drafted, became clear under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, and have been pushed to new heights under Putin.

"In 1993 when the draft of the present constitution was being discussed," Vishnevskiy says, he "proposed that those supporters of Boris Yeltsin who were calling for the establishment of 'a strong president' system should try to imagine [what might happen if] Aleksandr Rutskoy or Al'bert Makashov [became] president."

But because most people then involved both in Russia and the West believed that only a Yeltsin able to ignore the country's parliament could push through the necessary reforms, they ignored the warnings of Vishnevskiy and others that this sacrifice of democratic values in the name of preferred policies could lead to disaster.

The Moscow analyst notes that what he feared is just what has happened. Yeltsin increasingly acted without regard to the popular will. And "even if there had been a different president, he, recognizing his complete lack of responsibility [to the people] would have conducted himself exactly as Yeltsin did."

Under Putin, the full implications of shortcomings of the 1993 Constitution have came into view, with Putin exploiting them - ending the election of governors, to reduce the importance of political parties, and to pack the legislature with his own people, all the while insisting that he is acting democratically and constitutionally.

But this system, Vishnevskiy continues, one based on the restoration of what he calls "the power vertical," has erected an almost impenetrable barrier between the people and those who rule in their name but who are "ever less dependent on society" and its views as democracy requires but the 1993 constitution does not.

In a genuinely strong state but not in the simulacrum of that which Putin has put in place, "the power of the government is directed toward the realization of citizens' interests, toward the defense of their rights, and not to the complete sense that everything is permitted to bureaucrats."

In Russia, however, everything is "just the opposite" however much the Kremlin says it has done to promote a "strong state," and anyone can see at a glance that "the executive 'vertical' ever more reminds one of a wall separating the powers from the people" rather than reflecting their will.

If this does not change, Vishnevskiy continues, virtually anyone who serves as president of Russia regardless of who he is will not act democratically in response to the popular will but rather will exploit, as Putin already has, the anti democratic provisions of the 1993 document.

Vishnevskiy suggests that Russians should thus pay less attention to the qualities of those who serve as their rulers than to the system that allows these rulers to behave in arbitrary and undemocratic means. And he points to the arguments of the American Founders in support of that notion.

More than two centuries ago, he notes, the authors of the Federalist Papers drafted the U.S. Constition on the basis of an assumption that "we cannot permit ourselves to rely on the morality of our leaders. Instead, the state must be constructed in such a way that even the worst reprobate, having become president, will not be able to inflict irremediable harm on the American people."

Unfortunately, the Russian political class over the last 15 years has not been similarly wise, Vishnevskiy concludes sadly. Instead, its members have designed a political system reflecting the opposite assumption: namely, that in leading posts, there will always be professionals who will never make a mistake."

If that assumption were justified, Vishnevskiy concedes, "the system might work beautifully even without the authorities being dependent on the citizenry. But it would be more realistic, he suggests, to consider other, less happy possibilities and then modify the system rather than somehow try to find someone who will not exploit its shortcomings.
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