Michael McFaul: Stepping Down is Putin’s First Democratic Move

putin_medved1213.jpgFrom Michael McFaul in the Moscow Times: By committing to stepping down as president by naming a successor, Putin has taken a small but important step toward democratization. Since December 1993, political forces of all ideological persuasions have acquiesced to the political rules of the game spelled out in the Constitution. Putin’s decision to continue to adhere to these rules will make it more costly for future leaders to transgress them. Of course, the reason Putin can feel secure in anointing Dmitry Medvedev as his successor is that Putin and his team have so weakened all other centers of political power. Could Medvedev win a competitive election campaign against candidates with financial resources, access to national television and the ability to win support from regional leaders? We will never know. And this changing of the guard is more like the strange 1999-2000 transition from Yeltsin to Putin than a genuine change of government through the electoral process. U.S. political scientist Adam Przeworski once defined democracy as a system of government in which incumbents lose elections. That is unlikely to be the case in March. Finally, the fact that everyone is already convinced that Medvedev will be the next president — four months before any votes have been cast — underscores just how undemocratic the Russian political system has become.