Thursday, September 16, 2004

Liberal Supporters of Putin's Reichstag

The inevitable aftermath of events like 9-11 or Beslan school massacre is the decline of civil liberties under the pretext of increased public security. Equally inevitable is the opportunistic use of such tragedies for short or long-term political gains. Those who lead countries hit by such atrocities exploit public anger and fear in order to tighten their grip on power.

But it seems that Putin went a little bit too far in trying to exploit Beslan. He proposed sweeping set of constitutional reforms that would make Russian Federation more centralised and his regime even more authoritarian. Regional governors, instead of being elected by local population, are going to be appointed by Kremlin. In order to reduce the number of major political parties, new Duma is going to completely abandon First Past The Post electoral system and be elected solely on the basis of proportional vote.

This was too much even for Bush administration, keen to present Russia as its new and valuable ally in War In Terror. Powell and Bush asked what electoral system has to do with fighting terrorism.

Needless to say, those questions and savage criticism of Putin's plan are going to be echoed by many in the world, including Croatian top political scientists. They would attack Putin as authoritarian who tries to destroy last tiny shred of Yeltsin-era democracy and bring back the bad old Soviet days. According to them, Russia ruled on new Putin's principles, is incompatible with standards embodied by European Union.

But most of those political scholars in Croatia are the same people who spent a decade and half advocating the same things Putin is now implementing in Russia.

Ever since democracy was introduced in Croatia, so many political scientists and commentators have problems with one of its manifestations - high number of different political parties. Before every elections there are complaints about too many political parties making "Croatian political scenes too chaotic". Calls are made for election laws to be changed in order to reduce the number of major parties to "acceptable levels" – two major parties plus one or three minor that could act as king-makers for coalition governments.

Another mantra of Croatian political scientists is proportional representation as the best way to elect people to Sabor (and regional and local assemblies). Proportional representation is lauded for being "fairer", more "in tune with popula will" and, finally, more "European". Since so many EU countries have adopted proportional representation, so must Croatia.

Consensus on the issue of direct elections of local and regional officials isn't that strong, though. Under current system, mayors and county governors are elected by regional and local assemblies. HNS tried to push for the new legislation demanding direct election. Although HNS in its programme and rhetoric fits perfectly into the mindset of liberal EU-worshipping intelligentsia, many from those quarters opposed the initiative. According to them, directly elected mayors and county governors would get "too much power" that could, in turn, transform them into "unanswerable local bosses".

While the criticism of latest disturbing developments in Russia is justified, it would be even more justified if the critics are honest enough to implement such criticism in their own back yard.


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