|Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Russia
On the last day of 1999, Boris Yeltsin resigned as president of Russia and appointed his Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting president. Putin has been Yeltsin favourite choice as his successor for some time now. The former K.G.B. official is Yeltsin's man and therefore not likely to start an embarassing investigation into Yeltsin's and his entourage's wrongdoings during his presidency. Boris' daughter and non-official political adviser Tatyana (39) is said to have played an important role in this manoeuvre.
Yeltsin, already 68, made a clever move by resigning ahead of time. Putin, is highly rated in the polls. Everybody knows that his positive image is tied to a huge campaign in the state media and to his "success" in the Chechen war. In that sense, it was only rational for Yeltsin to try to take advantage of the situation and to resign only two weeks after the Duma elections. In accordance with the Russian Constitution that stipulates new elections to be held in the 90 days after the resignation of the head of state, the presidential elections take place in March (three months ahead schedule, Yeltsin's second mandate would have ended in June).
Putin, 47, is not only a man of the young guard, a lot of Russians are tired of their gerontocracy and wish to see fresh faces. Moreover, Putin is, probably in the eyes of a majority, a man of action who is ready to take tough decisions. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to step out of Yeltsin's shadow and to act on his own. He announced on TV his will to protect "freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press [during the Duma election campaign, this was clearly not the case with ORT and RTR, the state TV channels], the right to private property - all these basic principles of a civilized society".
There are still three months left to the elections. A lot can happen - especially in Chechnya. If too many young Russian soldiers die and Chechen rebels and terrorists cannot be controlled, Putin's ratings could fall sharply. Yeltsin's "splendid little war", largely a manoeuvre to divert attention from internal economic and social problems, could backfire ahead of time.
The opposition is still divided. The biggest party, the Communists, are with 24% of the popular vote far from gaining the support of a majority. Russians have learned their lesson. But there is no serious contender for the position of president in sight. The ambitions of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow's mayor Yuri Luzhkov received a serious blow in the Duma elections as their party Fatherland-All Russia got heavily beaten (12%), whereas the just weeks ago newly created Unity bloc, endorsed by Putin, finished second with 23%, just behind the Communist party. The March headlines are likely to be "from Putin to Putin". That is not to encouraging a sign since "his" Unity bloc has no politial program, besides backing Putin and a vague attitude towards "pragmatism and authoritarianism".
The future does not look bright for Russia with a President that cannot count on the support of a Duma majority. The Russian Constitution gives too much power to the President. In that, the situation is reminiscent of the Weimar Republic. Therefore, it should be modified following the example of the German Constitution, especially its constructive vote of no confidence should be introduced. In the current situation, president, government and Duma seem incapable of a constructive dialogue that would lead to the needed economic, social, legal and political reforms. But the Duma elections have also shown, that the party system is still not rigid and major shifts are possible - even in the direction of the establishment of a governmental majority coalition.