Sunday, September 22, 2013

If not Putin, then whom?

Because personality matters in a leader

by Clifford F. Thies 

From time to time, we have commented on President Vladimir Putin of Russia and on his United Russia Party. We have described him as a nationalist, and his party as having nationalist, conservative and liberal elements. We also have noted that his junior partner in United Russia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is maybe a bit more to our liking, but it is easy to exaggerate the difference between the two men (beyond the Putin's larger-than-life persona). 

Recently, U.S. Senator John McCain has said that Russia deserves better than Putin. While we consider ourselves free to criticize, we usually defer to the people of other countries, in free and open elections, to make the decision of who shall be their president. But, what if we were to seriously consider McCain's comment.

First, a person's personality as a leader counts, and Putin is very strong as a leader. Russia is still in transition from a soviet-orientation to a democratic-orientation. Russia faces challenges to its peace and security. We believe Russia will eventually want to join in economic and military agreements with the democratic countries of the world, but on terms reflecting its great potential rather than the disorganization and weakness it still suffers. So, Putin or somebody like Putin, in terms of being a strong leader, is a good choice for the country.

Looking at Putin's rivals in the past election, only two deserve any consideration. One finished third and the other fifth in the election, far out of second place and not even having a chance of gaining a run-off. The one who finished second was the candidate of the Communist Party. Certainly, McCain is not saying that that man would be better than Putin. The one who finished fourth was an extreme nationalist. Putin is a nationalist, but not an extreme nationalist. 

Certainly, McCain is not saying that an extreme nationalist would be better than Putin. What about the man who finished fifth? He was the candidate of A Just Russia party, that is, a social democrat, or center-left candidate. 

To be sure, we like to poke fun at center-left politicians, especially the goofy ones like Hollande of France or the beautiful ones like Gillard of Australia, Julia the Red we call her. Center-left is acceptable in the context of the back and forth of politics in democratic countries. But, here is our question for A Just Russia: is this party capable of being strong or will it be like the government of Alexander Kerensky? 

Which brings us to the man who finished third, Mikhail Prokhorov, a wealthy businessman who ran as an independent and, after the election, organized the Civic Platform Party, a business-oriented, center-right party. We like the Civic Platform Party of Poland and of several other slavic countries. And, we are impressed by people who are successful in business (even though we realize that translating success in business into success in politics is not automatic). So, we think there is potential in this new Civic Platform Party. 

While we will not engage in speculation about whether it would have been better if Prokhorov had, somehow, won the last Presidential election in Russia, here is what we will say: It would be great for Russia if its two major parties were United Russia and Civic Platform.

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