Many historians consider Gorbachev’s fatal mistake the fact that he did not dare to go through the crucible of popular elections for the post of president of the USSR, but was content with his election to this position by participants in the Congress of People’s Deputies.
I consider this approach a manifestation of formalism. The error of Gorbachev’s mistakes was that he lost control of the political processes in the state. Everything else is deeply secondary. But, when the question of power is being decided, it is not worth dismissing the symbolic and even sacred meaning of the popular “blessing for the kingdom”.
By insisting on involving citizens in the process of approving constitutional amendments, Putin made a decision that was the only one right in terms of his political interests. The redrawing of the Basic Law, sanctified only by a decision of the parliament, would give the right of the GDP to once again claim one presidential level of moral legitimacy. And the same amendment, approved already at a popular vote, is completely different.
Absolutely justified, from the point of view of the logic of the political process, was the Kremlin’s decision not to postpone the vote to a hypothetical point in the future, when the coronavirus finally leaves our lives. In politics it is very important to “keep up with the train” – to do everything on time. The endless postponement of a decision is often tantamount to, if not refusing to accept it, then certainly dropping it from the political agenda.
That is why, after weighing all the pros and cons, the authorities gritted their teeth and went to the polls in conditions when Russia is still among the world record holders in the number of patients with coronavirus.
But the fact that holding the vote right now is “the lesser of evils” for the Kremlin, in no way detracts from the complexity of the task that the government now faces. The decision to give residents of the capital the right to vote online is also the lesser evil, a surefire way to increase the turnout and to involve in the approval process those who are morally unprepared for a full-time campaign at the polling station.
But at the same time, this is a political experiment with a completely non-obvious result. As the events of the end of 2011 showed, the level of trust (or mistrust) of citizens in the official election results can easily become the Achilles heel of our political system and literally in one night change the balance of power in the country.
The authorities could not go to a partial translation of the vote online. But here is how justified in the end such a decision will turn out to be found out only after the first of July. Much depends on how much the government is able to use the current tactics of the opponents of the amendments – a public demonstration of the possibility of voting twice, or even thrice, against themselves.
I don’t want to tell anyone any “creative political ideas”. But the fact that the game called “catch the falsifier by the hand” can be played not only by those who are trying to prove the unreliability of the electoral system, lies on the surface. After summing up the voting results, the authorities will definitely try to prove: if anyone tried to falsify these results, these are opposition representatives and opponents of the amendments. I think that there is no need to add: an attempt to prove may well be followed by an attempt to roughly punish.
Another risk factor for the authorities during the voting is, of course, everyone is terribly bored, but the coronavirus has not gone anywhere. And no, I do not mean the hypothetical possibility of infecting someone at a polling station. We need to look at the situation more widely.
Russia is a country in which all kinds of conspiracy theories adore. One of the most popular such theories today sounds like this: the inhabitants of Russia were specifically “released into the wild” to give them the opportunity to vote correctly in the conditions of the return of all the signs and attributes of normal life. And as soon as we fulfill our civic duty, they will cheerfully drive us back to quarantine. To seriously comment on all of the above – to waste time in vain. But, if in a few weeks the coronavirus in Russia suddenly ceases to “retreat” and begins to advance again, this will seriously damage the reputation of the authorities.
However, we will not try to look into the future. Let’s talk better about what’s happening right now. And in my opinion, the following happens: we go through one of the most important reference points in the modern history of Russia. The fact that the ballot paper does not contain the name Putin, but a certain impersonal package of amendments to the Constitution, is only a legal formality. In fact, the country is asked to issue a fresh confidence mandate to GDP. We will soon find out how significant this mandate will be.