In the fourth part of his pre-election manifesto published in Kommersant daily on Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin touts the internet as an electronic means for making democracy more responsive to the people.
The premier is running for president in next month’s election.
Expressing the importance of “indispensable” democratic principles, Putin stresses at the same time that democracy-building is not just a matter of “copying and pasting” Western values into Russia.
“Genuine democracy cannot be produced overnight,” Putin states in the article. “You cannot just copy it by reproducing somebody else’s model; society has to be ready for democratic mechanisms.”
The Prime Minister recalls what transpired in the turbulent 1990s, when “democracy” was hastily introduced following the collapse of the Soviet Union.“What we got in the 1990s with the supposed coming of democracy was not a modern state,” writes Putin.
“What we got was turf wars between various clans and…semi-feudal fiefdoms.” By comparison, Russia’s political landscape today – with its more politically informed electorate – faces new challenges that demand new solutions.
“Today, the quality of the state does not match civil society’s readiness to participate in it,” Putin admits, in a nod to the opposition. “Our civil society has become much more mature, active and responsible – they should have the capacity to match increased public activism.”
Spin doctors and image makers need not apply
In an apparent swipe at Western-style democracy, where, he suggests, substance has taken a back seat to sensationalism, Putin warns of the threat of democracy becoming just another form of cheap entertainment.
“We do not need the circus of various candidates competing with each other to give more and more unrealistic promises,” he says. “We don’t need a situation where all that is left of democracy is the facade, where democracy is understood as a one-time entertaining political show…where substance is forgotten for the sake of shocking statements and mutual accusations.”
Putin goes on to chastise the “spin doctors” and “image makers” who are attempting to “control politicians.”
What modern Russia needs, Putin says, is a “clear, quick and transparent mechanism for preparing, making and implementing both short-term and long-term decisions,” which will promote “constructive dialogue and mutual trust between society and the government.”
Putin advocates the active use of Internet technologies for building the foundation of responsible democratic institutions.
Russia, with its millions of regular internet users, has the means to overhaul its political system, right at its fingertips.
“Democracy should have mechanisms for direct and constant action… and efficient channels for dialogue, public oversight, communication and feedback,” Putin advises, offering examples as to how to use the available technology.
“It is important to create user-friendly, interactive interfaces for public authorities’ web portals, so that their plans and programs can be fully available, publicly discussed, and their implementation monitored,” he writes.
The top contender in next month’s presidential election says he will “ask web designers to assist the state” with implementing this proposal.
Putin then discusses how the internet can give voters direct participation in the democratic process, while also breaking down the mountain of red tape.
“I suggest introducing a rule for a mandatory review in Parliament of initiatives that collect one hundred thousand or more signatures on the internet,” Putin writes, citing a similar law in the UK. “Certainly the anonymous internet cannot serve this purpose, even though in a number of instances it helps reveal the mood of society… [Therefore] a procedure should be developed for the official registration of those who want to participate in this system”.
Putin believes that a widely available “internet democracy” would give citizens at the city and municipal levels “the opportunity to vote and introduce topical problems at local referendums or Internet polls.”
By way of example, Putin says residents of a given locale “should be given an opportunity to express their opinion on the performance of the head of the district police…after his first year on the job.”
The PM’s plans for promoting “internet democracy” are part of his Electronic Government project, scheduled to be completed by July.
“At present, our citizens have access to all information on political debates in Parliament, on world markets, and on the marriages and divorces of Hollywood celebrities,” Putin muses. “What they can’t do over the internet, however, is retrieve data on their utility bills, review their medical files, or find the name of their district police officer…
“Many state services are now available online… But most people need information that’s relevant for them: on their homes, nearby areas, neighboring parks, schools, and their municipalities.”
“The Electronic Government project should be aimed more precisely at the needs and requirements of the people,” Putin says, summing up his plans. “By means of information technology, state mechanisms should be made comprehensive and accessible to the public.”
Corruption: the new cool
Addressing Russia’s perennial problem of corruption, Putin cited a conversation between Tsar Nicholas I and his chief of secret police Alexander von Benckendorff, when the former announced he wanted to stamp out graft, and got the following question in return, “Do you think there will be anyone left around you?”
The Prime Minister then quotes a recent poll on the aspirations of Russian children.
“In the turbulent 1990s teenagers dreamed of becoming oligarchs,” Putin said. “But now they want to be state officials; many view public service as a source of fast and easy cash.”
When discussing ways of dealing with individuals in high places fattening their wallets, Putin talks tough.
“The fight against corruption must become a national course, not a matter for political speculation… political exploitation,” he cautions. “We offer real, systemic solutions that will ensure a far more effective rehabilitation of state institutions and the use of new principles in our staff policy – eventually, our goal is to make reputational, financial and material losses so great, that corruption would no longer pay.”
“We will act consistently, reasonably and with determination. We will remove the fundamental causes for corruption and punish particular officials. We will boost motivation for those who want to serve Russia in good faith. We have always had plenty of such people, and they will be given a chance.”
“We have defeated oligarchy, and we will defeat corruption.”
In conclusion, Putin says that his solutions will help to make the power of the people – democracy – a genuine one.
“It’s these solutions that make public service function in the interests of people,” Putin writes. “And together, they ensure that Russia and its people enjoy sustainable and successful growth.”
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