President’s Call-In Show

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In the 15th episode of his annual call-in show on June 15, which was held in summer for the first time in history, Russian President Vladimir Putin fielded questions from Russian citizens.

The major feature that characterizes televised Q&A sessions is that they serve as a powerful instrument of government policy as well as allow analyzing public opinion. During his call-in shows, Putin often gives orders to relevant officials and departments, and they immediately start executing them. They are in the limelight, with the questions being publicly put to them.

Call-in shows tend to encourage the President to charge the government with resolving a range of mentioned or relevant problems. Consequently, such programs have already evolved into an agenda-setting tool for necessary conclusions and practical decisions.

Oleg Matveychev, Professor at National Research University – Higher School of Economics, believes that Putin’s Q&A session did not seek to convey only one single message. The President aimed at reaching out to the public, which he explicitly stated while responding to a question. And he successfully accomplished the task.

– The call-in show was perfectly balanced and unbiased. Actually, each question was of paramount importance.

Above all, such questions had something to do with Russia’s economic crisis. While dwelling on the economy, President Putin said, “What are the hard facts telling us? They are telling us that the Russian economy has overcome the recession, and moved into a growth trend”.

The President also made it clear that the country’s future depended on the digital economy, which he, however, did not “lose his head over”. As Putin sees it, without such an economy “we will not be able to move on to the next technological level. And without the transition to a new technological model, the Russian economy, which basically means Russia, has no future”. Thus, a new strategy may have started to take shape. It implies growing real incomes in the short-term and the transition to a new technological model in the longer term.

A number of messages, which flashed up behind Putin on a screen in the state television studio where the session was hosted, revolved around the relationship between the regime and the opposition. Most of them could be called tough and provocative. The President underlined his readiness to “to talk to everyone who really aims to improve people’s lives, to resolve the issues facing the country, but not the ones who use existing difficulties – and there are always enough difficulties anywhere you go – to promote their own political agenda”. Another answer went as follows, “The strength of a leader is not measured by their handshake; it is measured by their attitude towards the work they do”.

As Alexey Zudin, Member of the Advisory Board of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research (ISEPR Foundation), points out, new technologies did not affect the show, which always addresses particular cases.

– During his call-in show Russia’s President deals with either specific problems or matters discussed within the broader context.

Moreover, Putin primarily concentrated on pressing home issues. The Q&A session was full of people’s tragic stories and pictures depicting social ills… The tone was set from the outset.

Boris Makarenko, Chairman of the Board of the Center for Political Technologies, also notes a great number of local or private matters considered by the President. However, the political scientist is inclined to see it in the negative light.

– From my perspective, the issues must be tackled at a far lower level, by the local authorities rather than by the President. And there are not just a few cases. If people pin all their hopes on the head of state, the top-down system of rule malfunctions. Although the previous call-in shows revealed a similar trend, this time it is by far more apparent.

On the one hand, it is good that the President acts as a Santa Claus behind the desk. His stepping-in often has a positive impact on the outcome. I do not mean some egregious abuses of power on a regional scale, when Putin wades in, thus pushing the investigative committee and the prosecution service into taking actions. In fact, we have witnessed this over the last years. On the other hand, problems occur at the grassroots level, suggesting that local governments just muddle through somehow.

It is noteworthy that Putin indirectly recognized the fact, elaborating on the recent campaign to inject fresh blood into the gubernatorial corps. As he put it, “In many regions the governors’ tenure is already over. With many of them serving 10 or more years, they – frankly speaking – asked to try working in other realms”.

The call-in show did not spill the beans about the most intriguing part of the pre-electoral year. Will Vladimir Putin stand for the 2018 presidential elections? Will his successor take part in the contest? Notwithstanding differently framed question, Vladimir Putin once again emphasized the role of Russia’s public in final decision-making.

Photo: Mikhail Kliment’ev / TASS

References used: Politanalitika

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