By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.
Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia, claimed the Presidency, the supreme leadership of his country, once more last week with – at least in public – an assurance which amounted to nonchalance. The man whom he had made current President of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, proposed to the party he had created, United Russia, that he be its candidate for the next presidential elections, to be held next year.
He told the party congress that, should he be elected, he would appoint Mr. Medvedev as Prime Minister. A straight switch, requiring only the imprimatur of the people – who, grateful for stability, rising prices and an increase in the status of their country – are expected to give it.
For a country which has been turbulent for a quarter of a century, this promises the smoothest of transitions. Mr. Putin was president – succeeding Boris Yeltsin – for two terms, from 2000 to 2008. Mr. Medvedev kept the seat warm for a further four years: and if re-elected, Mr. Putin can expect two more presidential terms, till 2020 (when he will be 68) – a longer tenure of power than any other major elected leader since the war. This, of course, assumes he remains popular: but while both his own and his party’s ratings have fallen, both easily outstrip every other individual or party in the state.
The proposed transition points to a jagged fact: most authoritarian leaders are presently both more successful and (much) more popular than most democratic ones. The rulers of China, secure in the former Imperial pleasure garden compound of Zhongnanhai next to Beijing’s Forbidden City, continue to balance carrots and sticks in their successful quest for relative stability and absolute growth. Fears of a contagion from the Arab spring has translated into a harsher tone to Chinese rule – but so far, Tienanmen has not been transformed into Tahrir Square. Dissidence and protests there are, aplenty: but the steady expansion of living standards, consumption and (managed) liberties ensure a majority quiescent, or supportive.
In the democratic world? Uneasy lies the head of every elected leader of a major state. Contemporary politics offers no swifter descent from the stellar to the cellar than that of President Barack Obama, whose main crime in the eyes of both his opponents and his supporters has been to make the (fully democratic) transition from aspirant to occupant. The leader of the world’s biggest democracy, Manmohan Singh of India, is said by The Diplomat, the current affairs magazine for the Asia Pacific region, to be “seen by many as ineffective, insufficiently driven and, worse, just plain uninspiring”.