Institutional Flexibility

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Oksana Gaman-Golutvina

President of the Russian Political Science Association

When considering cutting-edge technologies and direct democracy nowadays, we should have a closer look at the All-Russia People’s Front (ONF). In my opinion, the project can be deemed successful for several reasons.

First of all, its roots can be traced back to the domestic political tradition, which has largely predetermined its effectiveness. The strong liking of the leader on the part of ordinary citizens can be accounted for by the emphasis that the authorities have placed on the openness of the recruitment of the ruling elite. Peter the Great used to rely on popular support when he pursued his modernization strategy, which influential but torpid Moscow boyars strongly opposed fearing its innovative character.

Nowadays the population’s support of President Putin – who, by the way, initiated the creation of the ONF – can be attributed to his independent foreign policy, a high degree of autonomy in the corresponding decision-making and an attempt to reduce cumbersome bureaucracy. It is well-known that the idea to set up the ONF was implemented by Vyacheslav Volodin, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration.

The recently modified Russian political system is no longer a gradual process with a clearly defined set of goals. In a turbulent environment the political system is not only constantly evolving, but this evolution becomes its permanent feature typifying its performance. The existing institutional design in best adapted to the contemporary tasks and challenges due to its ability to evolve. The ONF can serve as an example of a political institution which is able to learn, adapt, and improve its performance. This institutional flexibility proves to be a kind of a solid basis of a political organization in the world of constant changes and crises.

Its novelty and unique format contribute to its efficiency. The movement is aimed at reaching global and strategic objectives. The ONF has an extremely flexible structure, which allows attracting a pool of highly specialized experts. Each satellite is due to successfully carry out a specific project with a clear-cut aim, for instance “Fair Procurement”, “Good Roads”, “Defending the Rights of Borrowers”, ““Health” Foundation”, Center for Legal Support of Journalists and so on.

The institution’s management structure is reminiscent of the pattern, where the emphasis is placed on the highly specialized divisions, with each performing its functions under the ONF guidance to reach the goals it set. The distribution of specific tasks between the divisions and the relevant organizations allows achieving a higher degree of professionalism.

This pattern, among other things, is most popular among corporations and large businesses. It can be attributed to the flexible wide-ranging functions the enterprise can carry out, as well as to the most judicious use of resources. Thus, the ONF’s socio-political programs are based on the form of management, which has demonstrated its highest efficiency in business.

The popularity the format enjoys can be explained in the following way. The end of the 20th century was marked by the severe crisis of parties which were massively replaced by task forces, interest groups and social movements. Although it is, at best, premature to declare the demise of political parties, it is safe to say that specific tasks are accomplished more efficiently by flexible structure, the ONF’s experience being a reliable proof.

Indeed, a careful analysis of the ONF shows that it is a by far less formalized and cumbersome organization than the party. Institutional flexibility contributes to better results than any newly-established party, which is still to become entrenched in the party system, can show. The very management pattern ensures its success in urgent tasks. The five-year old ONF has managed to avert bureaucratization, a traditional problem for organizations.

The ONF as a social body is a tool to enhance the efficiency of public administration. This is very challenging. In particular, thirty countries worldwide introduced large-scale measures to improve governance in the framework of New Public Management paradigm in the last decades of the twentieth century. The restructured management constituted a vital part of the reform as the unwieldy and inefficient state machinery was replaced with a flexible model. The state‘s role is confined to indicating strategic directions while delegating a range of functions to civil society. The ONF together with the state provides guidance. It is a difficult but exciting and feasible challenge, which is fully consistent with direct democracy.

The monitoring function can hardly be overestimated. It seems that in this case the ONF leaders aim even higher as they seek to convince the community of the effectiveness of such controls and to introduce the relevant practices. The well-known statement goes that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” which is valid for any society. The ONF is mainly tasked with providing effective control of task managers, and this policy rests upon the best international practices. In many ways, this is the advantage of the ONF and its network of activists in the elections to the State Duma.

The primaries of United Russia, which took place in May 2016, gave the political process and the forthcoming elections to the State Duma a fundamentally new angle. The elections are not just a process that is a result of a lengthy thought process they are also to a large extent spontaneous. Participation of the ONF and its activists in primaries and elections allow voters to make more informed choices, based on an analysis of the actual results achieved in the pre-election period. This is a great advantage for a voter, as for several years prior to the elections the ONF was able to implement a number of projects on the topics that are related to the vital interests of the electorate (the problem of housing and communal services, medicine and environmental issues, etc.). The fact that the Front was able to establish itself as an institution that raises these pressing issues on behalf of voters, provides a significant advantage to the Front in the elections.

As of now it is impossible to accurately calculate the outcome of the parliamentary elections and ONF’s performance. However, it is clear that this breakthrough will be qualitative in nature, and will be a well-deserved success, because thanks to the efforts of the ONF ordinary voters are able to come close to being able to solve their pressing problems.

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