Putin’s Call-In Show Transforming From an Attribute of the Individual Style to a Political Institution

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The public channels and radio stations broadcast the 14th televised call-in show with Vladimir Putin. The head of state managed to answer 80 various questions concerning the population and the country. This time, he interacted with Russians for 3 hours 40 minutes. Earlier, Dmitry Peskov, President’s spokesman, said that the bulk of the questions addressed was transferred through a call center. Some questions were sent via the Internet and social networks.

People’s enthusiasm about talking to the leader remains strong, stressed Alexey Zudin, member of the ISEPR Foundation advisory board. He is quoted as saying that new topics are touched upon, the technologies used become more versatile and powerful:

Experts prefer to emphasize the psychological, to be more precise, the therapeutic role of the show. People talked to the president and seemed to stop feeling distressed or anxious. But, first and foremost, its main purpose should be evaluated, the one of a political phenomenon. The event is justifiably perceived as a peculiar feature of Putin’s political style. There may have been separate precedents in other states, but I cannot recall the project of similar scale and duration. Therefore, there is every reason to consider it a successful political innovation.

The duration and continued interest on the part of different groups, politicians and the media testify to stable public demand for the call-in show and its need for the development of the political system. Actually, we are witnessing an emerging political tradition which implies that a distinctive style of a political figure takes shape of Russia’s key political institution.

Vladimir Putin’s televised call-in show is the quintessence of the representative character of the presidential office. The strong president is not just the person who takes the lead. He articulates the interests of the public – Russia’s political nation – and from this he primarily derives his power. If we are to regard this annual discussion as the political arrangement, we can identify, at least, three essential functions. Firstly, it constitutes a direct democracy institution, that is direct popular involvement in decision-making which takes place openly or publicly. In this respect, April’s call-in embodies the historic tradition of Russia’s political culture. Secondly, Putin’s addressing the nation is an instrument of setting a nationwide political agenda. While communicating with the President, citizens tend to raise the most relevant issues. Consequently, the federal and regional authorities adjust their policies to handle acute problems detected at the forum.      

Although the third function is more subtle than the above mentioned ones, it is still relevant. With the President’s call-in show developing from an element of Putin’s style into a political institution, certain standards of a constructive dialogue with citizens on the basis of mutual respect have also started to take shape.  

However, the most crucial point is the following. In spite of the fact that the Head’s call-in show is the most reliable evidence of direct democracy, it is not unique in itself. Over the recent years, different direct democracy institutions equivalent to Putin’s phone-in such as the All-Russia People’s Front and the Russian Public Initiative have emerged. Thus, the historic tradition of direct democracy embodied in the “direct line” press conference contributes to new arrangements.

This article first appeared on the website Politanalitika

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