“Democracy May Become a Phenomenon of the Past”

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Dmitriy Badovskiy on power transit and institutional transformation

The issue of possible reforms in the Russian political system after March 2018 election has been recently discussed more and more often. Gazeta.Ru has discussed their probability and essence with Dmitriy Badovskiy, head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Researches (ISEPR Foundation), one of the key advisors to Vyacheslav Volodin, former top domestic politics official of the Presidential Executive Office, State Duma Speaker.

– Today Vladimir Putin is increasingly talking about the vision of the future, the state system may be redesigned after his possible re-election. If he takes part in the election, this, most likely, will become a basis of a new Putin’s platform. In this light our first question is: what exactly is wrong with our political institutions?

First, institutions always work. The question is which institutions you mean: public political institutions or informal practices. Absence or underdevelopment of efficient formal institutions in a society does not mean anarchy and war of all against all.

On the contrary, instead of formal and visible institutions there are informal ones which still provide for a certain level of trust and predictability. But it would be incorrect to claim that this issue has come up just recently.

There was already a period when this issue was in the focus of attention, in 2007-2009. People were saying that under Yeltsin the presidency was just a revolutionary institution destined to crush the previous system, and under Putin it gradually became equal to Putin in a personal quality.

During the transfer of power from Putin to Medvedev there was a discussion about the essence of the institution of the president in Russia if one does not limit it to Putin’s political identity. Now this topic is back on the agenda.

The ruling class is entering a period when it is more interested in the way how power will be transferred as well as property, how the new generation will come to power and how the current belonging to the elite will be extending into the future. Besides, which rules of the game are unconditional, permanent and which rules can change.

In this context, the project of Ksenia Sobchak’s participation in the 2018 presidential election is quite symptomatic and indicative. Principles and mechanisms of elite reproduction are being demonstrated. In fact, this is a nepotic manifesto of a certain part of our elites which is aimed at inheriting social and political statuses.

– How can one stop the transformation of public institutions into clans’ property? Is it about changing the Constitution?

Discussions of this sort reemerge from time to time. In particular, it can always happen before the presidential election. Someone revitalizes the idea of shifting from the presidential republic to a mixed form of government.

At the same time, other people say that the current system of division of the presidential and governmental powers is not perfect. If they are combined, confidants will finally become deputy prime ministers. Thus, systems of formal and informal rule will be merged.

Our Constitution was designed in 1993. In many ways it has inherited constitutional patterns of the French Fifth Republic with separate adoptions from other legal systems. The result is a certain institutional pattern to aspire for and to implement its practices. It would be wrong to claim that we have already exploited the institutional potential of our Constitution.

The matter is that some institutions have been underused and some practices have been partially forgotten and have been functioning episodically. The existing institutions need to be exploited to their maximum and to be tested. Among other things, this is necessary to understand what works better and what works worse, and what can require future clarifications, including constitutional ones.

It is a different matter that some issues are hung because of our constitutional system’s peculiarities. They will always inevitably be discussed. For example, we have borrowed from France the duality of the presidential and executive powers. At the same time, we have completely redesigned the governmental structure. Its composition depends on the president but not on the parliament. This issue of our constitutional model has been on the surface from the very beginning, and it will be discussed in the future. In this case, we really have important bifurcations for institutional relevance and balance of powers.

– As for the balance of powers, there are signs that so-called “siloviki” are the only solid foundation of the state system in Russia. Are they ready to change and share their informal leverage?

There is a famous saying that “political institutions are fortresses”. It is important not only to design and construct them in a correct way but also to populate them. Political agents, people, do matter: which strategies do they build, what do they have on their minds, which games do they want to play.

Attitudes towards politicians are dictated by the quality of their goals. The growth of this quality may be determined among other things by rational thinking.

If the ruling class is more interested in stability, predictability, clear rules of the game, then it will be interested in substituting informal practices with formal ones, including public and legally binding.

– What could make the existing elites work for the future, for the creation of public institutions?

Let us remember how the Soviet system was dismantled. In the framework of that system the “nomenklatura” could in no way decide on the question of inheriting the power and property. So, they just preferred to “hack” the state.

If the elites fail to decide on the transition to some new standard long-term rules of the system reproduction, as well as hereditary transmission of statuses and capitals, then there will always be a threat.

Overall, there are two kinds of elites: revolutionary and so-called stationary, settled, “old” elites.

The revolutionary elites are elites of redistribution. The 1990s and 2000s are the epochs of redistribution and redesign. But sooner or later the system enters a phase when it does not want to reproduce itself in the framework of the new redistribution which seems to be dangerous and unnecessary. At the same time, elites face the challenge of inheritance and of how capitals will be transferred.

To succeed, institutional foundations and rules of the game need to be fixed. Moreover, it is important that it should be done publicly and within the formalized institutions. These are the pillars of security, like in a nuclear reactor, which make the situation predictable. Otherwise, the value is not about the one who best knows the rules of the game but the one who can turn everything upside down.

Both elites and the system need to self-reproduce. Understanding it is pure pragmatism. It will be pushing the ruling class towards enhancing public institutions.

As for the 2018 election, there are almost no questions. One can be almost sure that Putin will run and win. But, for instance, the intrigue of the 2021 parliamentary election will be significant.

This election will define the parliamentary structure and the balance of interests inside social and inter-elite groups. This will be the key intrigue of the political process for the upcoming years. It will be the most competitive and important election from this perspective.

Why so? The parliament is the key institution for the institutional transit before and after 2024 as well as for possible changes, including constitutional ones.

– Those who are talking about the crisis of the party system with a strong domination of the United Russia party, which long ago forgot about political competition, will disagree with you. Moreover, there is a chance that Putin will run not from the United Russia but as a non-partisan candidate. Will the ruling party be able to change?

This is a very important case in our general discussion of the institutional system. Surely, the 2016 election which resulted in the domination of the United Russia is an important sign of the condition of the party system and public politics. The crisis of the development of most parties, including parliamentary opposition, is quite evident. It is not United Russia’s fault that it is the most viable party.

On the other hand, after we had abandoned the mixed system in the mid-2000s and moved to the purely proportional one, the country lacked new politicians familiar to the public, most of whom came from constituencies and regions.

Self-reproduction of strong politicians stopped after the abolishment of single-mandate constituencies and only recently it has been reviving. At the next parliamentary election the ruling party will already not be able to win more than 90 per cent of the constituencies, and this looks good.

The party system will inevitably continue to grow, in particular at the expense of large parliamentary parties. Currently almost all of them are undergoing transition and generational change.

Out of more than 70 registered parties only around 20 will be able to confirm their standing. The possibility to create new party organizations will remain, but the pace of the new party-building has already slowed down.

By the way, another important institutional signal is whether the incumbent president will be nominated by the party for the upcoming election or not.

The nomination by a political party emphasizes the significance of the party system. The opposite option highlights the trend for its reformation. This means that this signal will proliferate, move to the level of governors, and so on.

– In this case, maybe it would be better to adopt a purely majoritarian system? It would eliminate even more parties and candidates, and the system would be easier to manage.

Let us hypothesize that the Russian ruling class will gradually come to the understanding that future preservation of power and the framework of the political regime require a more sophisticated design than personal images of successors and tandems, personal leader ratings and model of the dominating party.

In this case, one could think of the formation of a two-party system, where the power could be periodically transferred from one elite faction to the other, but in any case remain in the hands of the ruling class.

If we want to set such an institutional trend, we could discuss the possibility of a transfer to a purely majoritarian system which will always tend to remain bipartisan. This assumption is based on the principle that at the election “the winner takes it all”.

Other parties would also continue in their niches, but under the condition of a de-facto inter-elite consensus about impossibility of any “third party” coming to power. In principle, it could resemble an analogue of many Western political systems.

Such a recomposition could touch upon all parliamentary parties: United Russia, Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, A Just Russia as well as All-Russia People’s Front.

At the same time it is evident that transfer towards a two-party system would require a different inter-elite contract. Currently, the nonseparatedness of power and property automatically makes any real transfer of power at least a new economic redistribution.

– Don’t you think that the government has set a course for a de-facto abolition of the party system?

 Nowadays, this idea is indeed quite popular, almost all over the world. Everyone says that democracy has been on the downward path everywhere and has been malfunctioning.

This idea is based on the assumption that the industrial mass-class society of large social groups is fading away. One of the key trends of the contemporary world development (in many areas, including economy, social and political spheres) is the individualization of demands and consumption.

The contemporary world is differentiating, atomizing and becoming more sophisticated. People’s vision of democracy is also becoming more individual (“democracy for myself”). The same goes for requirements for democracy (democracy as a supermarket where everyone can find something for themselves). This is why populism is flourishing, and parties are being substituted with groups and movements.

This conversation is not new both in academic literature and political discourse. Forms of direct democracy are being proposed. But the political system cannot exist without a subject. There should be political actors, political subjects aggregating interests. One could call them in different ways, but the sense is still the same.

Overall, it seems that discussions on the temporality of parties and democracy are not so innocent.

A lot has been recently said about our entering a new digital economy. Machine intelligence, digital economy, robots are a new reality. It is literally at the doorway, it will arrive within a few years’ time. There have been very timely discussions in academic literature claiming that the consequence of the new epoch from a socio-political perspective will be the trend of transferring towards a new feudalism.

In this new feudalism the machine intelligence and robots will almost completely replace the workforce. For the bulk of such a society jobs will be unavailable. People are completely dependent on their government or corporations which will give them money with the motto: “Buy something for yourself, play, but do not create problems”.

On the other hand, the machine intelligence, robots and cryptocurrencies largely depend on the access to considerable, large-scale resources, in particular energy resources.

People and subjects having access to such resources will also have access to development, “a pass to the future”. In fact, societies will consist of neo-feudal estates, like in the Game of Thrones. Army of the dead, the White Workers are on their way. In reality, they are robots, controlled by the machine intelligence, the Night King, and the old world is under threat.

Because of all the threats of socio-political transformations, in the arriving digital world it is important not only to elaborate legislation on human-robot relations but also to preserve human relations, to avoid their degradation.

– So, you mean that movement towards digital economy leads to dystopia?

This is a challenge to democracy and political systems with their institutional structure. Not only parties may become institutions of the past, but also democracy may become a phenomenon of yesterday, should it not be able to meet these challenges.

Source: Gazeta.Ru

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