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The Moscow Times, June 16, 2003

Voting No Confidence in What?

By Andrei Piontkovsky

On Wednesday, the State Duma is scheduled to consider a motion of no confidence in the government of Mikhail Kasyanov. Raising such a question is entirely natural, and moreover, is a necessary step to preserve the political face of our parliamentary system.

The model of Russian capitalism that took shape under former President Boris Yeltsin and has been consolidated and institutionalized under President Vladimir Putin is incapable -- due to congenital defects -- of providing either stable economic growth or the impetus for Russia to make a breakthough into the post-industrial era.

The motion of no confidence was initiated by Yabloko and the Communist Party, and it is interesting to note the reactions of other parties in the Duma to this initiative. The four-headed "party of power," whose election campaign is built around criticism of the government -- voiced by the leaders of party, who happen to double as members of the very same government -- is in a quandary. To support the government now would mean to abandon its labored election strategy for the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, to support the no confidence motion without the Kremlin's sanction would be completely inconceivable.

The Union of Right Forces has a different problem. Competing with Yabloko for the "democratic" vote, SPS by definition cannot support the initiative. Thus on the one hand, SPS leaders argue that the government is not really so bad, as it is "implementing many of SPS' progressive ideas." But on the other hand, it is of course a disgrace, although that is to miss the point. The government is but a cog in the system of executive power -- the "cleaning lady" in the words of SPS leader Boris Nemtsov. The presidential administration is the root of all evil -- and it's the general director, not the cleaning lady whom you should be censuring, but the timid Yabloko faction cannot bring itself to do so.

However, this line of argument is not convincing. A motion of no confidence in the government is the only political -- and not PR -- instrument provided for in the Constitution, for parliament to express its disagreement on a matter of principle with the executive branch, including the president.

The government is formed by the president, and can be sacked by the president at any moment by a simple stroke of the pen. Until he does that, the president formally shares responsibility with the government for its actions. In fact, Yabloko has never been afraid to criticize the authorities -- and not only over economic policy, but also over Chechnya and treatment of the mass media.

But coming back to Nemtsov's comparison of the government with a cleaning lady. This particular cleaning lady on a daily basis makes decisions to the tune of billions of rubles -- and sometimes billions of dollars -- which have a huge impact on the country's economy. Nonetheless, in one respect Nemtsov is undoubtedly right. In terms of its accountability to the public, the Kasyanov government, conveniently taking cover in our constitutional system behind the term "technical government," is indeed not dissimilar to a cleaning lady. But where then is the general director, who can be held to account for the country's capitalization?

In our political system, the president is a celestial being, responsible for foreign policy, security issues and other such vaunted policy areas. His forays into economics, which are made once a year, boil down to exhortations to the government to be more ambitious and demands that GDP be doubled.

As a result, in matters of economic policy we have an irresponsible government and an irresponsible president. And I am not talking about Mikhail Mikhailovich Kasyanov and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, but the official posts, as defined in our Constitution and by our political traditions.

Our Constitution is copied from that of France's Fifth Republic. However, in France with its developed system of parties, ready to replace one another in power after parliamentary elections and to form a government, the Constitution works very differently. In France, the leader of the party that wins at the elections becomes prime minister and enjoys full power over, as well as taking full responsibility for, matters of economic policy. As a result, France is a presidential republic in the area of foreign policy and a parliamentary republic in the area of economic policy.

Russia, on the other hand, is a presidential republic in matters of foreign policy and security, while it is "nobody's" republic as far as economic policy is concerned. Therefore, it is no surprise that, as presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov recently related to us, "jackals are tearing the Russian economy to pieces." And why shouldn't they, if the country is nobody's? The motion of no confidence should apply not just to specific individuals in Kasyanov's Cabinet, but also to the existing system of irresponsibility and unaccountability.

Can the political elite find a solution? In the absence of a developed party system, a parliamentary republic is not going to work on Russian soil. We would be better served by a system in which the president is also the head of the government and bears responsibility, inter alia, for the economy; while the parliament enjoys much broader oversight functions. Then, presidential elections would have much more substance, as every four years we would not be voting for the person who knows best how and whom to wipe out in the outhouse, but for the person who proposes the best program for the country's economic development.

Andrei Piontkovsky, an independent political analyst, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.


See also:

the original at

No-Confidence Vote

The Moscow Times, June 16, 2003

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