Russian would-be Premier could run for Presidency
Russian villages and rural settlements should be the focus of social reforms, because 40 million people live there. The national programmes and projects, as well as the President's address, say that it is necessary to increase our efforts in this area. The national programs include education, health care, housing and agriculture. Our work should improve the way of life in Russian villages. I've worked a lot in the rural area and I know for sure that the welfare of Russian villages is a guarantee of the welfare of the whole country. .
The man set to become Russia's new Prime Minister says he does not exclude the possibility that he might run for the presidency in the 2008 elections. Viktor Zubkov made the announcement at a briefing following his meeting with party leaders at the Duma.
Following the surprise nomination by Vladimir Putin, Viktor Zubkov has spent Thursday morning meeting the leaders of parliamentary factions.
“If I achieve something as Prime Minister then I do not rule out that possibility,” Viktor Zubkov said after the meeting with the leaders of parliamentary factions on Thursday, answering the media question about his possible participation in presidential elections.
Meanwhile, the media is speculating over whether the announcement of Zubkov’s alleged presidential ambition signifies that Vladimir Putin intends to follow a scenario similar to that which saw him being appointed Prime Minister in 1999 and, at the very begining of 2000, Acting President of Russia. Putin himself was a surprise appointment to the position of Prime Minister by Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin.
It has been widely speculated that the two most likely candidates for the presidency are the two first deputy prime ministers in Mikhail Fradkov’s cabinet, Sergey Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, both public politicians with long records. The media have suggested that the relatively unknown Viktor Zubkov will be playing the role of a ‘technical premier’.
Now Zubkov seems to have given analysts and politicians yet another thought to consider. RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle believes it’s too early to make any long-range predictions: “We still have Mr Ivanov and Mr Medvedev. We’ll see if they’re going to be in the new cabinet – that’s the next big story.”
Stefan Wagstyl, Eastern Europe editor of the Financial Times, believes the current team in the Kremlin will remain in power past the parliamentary and presidential elections.
“The re-shuffle, of course, makes great political theatre, especially as the President succeeded in taking everybody, even the most expert opinion, by surprise. That wonderful drama makes good television and newspaper copy. However, I think that people, especially those abroad, need to focus on what is really going on here, which is that the current team in the Kremlin is very strong in their grip on power, very confident in themselves. They have lots of ideas and lots of energy, and in one way or another, they will be staying in power both after December and after March of next year,” he told RT.
Fiona Hill who is a Russian specialist at the National Intelligence Council, a think tank linked to the U.S. Government, says the various political parties in Russia are reacting differently to the latest government changes.
“We heard from First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov that this is business as usual, that this is simply a necessary change to keep the momentum of reforms going ahead of the election process, because there are lots of things that still need to be done.
“We’ve heard from members of some political parties that for them it is quite disturbing because this somehow implies that what happens with the government is divorced to some degree from what happens with the parliament. We’ve heard a call from a number of political parties that in the future they would like to see the Government and the Prime Minister more rooted in the party structure within the parliament so that the parliament and parties would have more say about a change in government,” Fiona Hill said.
Alena Ledeneva is a Russian academic at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European in London. She says the government reshuffle creates uncertainty across political spectrum.
“The first impression is huge uncertainty, among both party leaders and among the intellectual elite. There is general uncertainty in the air. It looks like everybody is guessing what is going on behind the scenes. The strongest sense one has is that important things are taking place behind closed doors,” she said.
The only major party, whose members’ votes were not secured by the would-be Premier, is the Communist Party.
Mr Zubkov had an impressive CV from his Soviet period, ranging from heading a major enterprise to becoming first deputy head of the Leningrad Region's Council. However, as far as his background in the market or modern period is concerned, it’s more often than not linked with the work of Putin, Kudrin, Gref and all this company, who have been steering a course which is destructive for Russia.
Communist Party Leader
Some members of the faction said after their meeting with Zubkov that it went more smoothly than expected. However, the communists are not going to support Zubkov’s candidacy and are expected to abstain from the voting
Meanwhile, the three other big factions in the Russian parliament praised the president’s choice of candidate for the Premier’s seat. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vladimir Zhirinovsky went as far as saying that he expects the Zubkov cabinet to be the best Russian government in 30 years. Zhirinovsky promised the full support of his party to Zubkov.
Two pro-president parties, United Russia and Fair Russia, also backed Victor Zubkov’s candidacy. Those who knew him back then say Zubkov’s personal qualities make him ideal for the job.
“He is a clear-thinking, mature person with no selfish ends. He is a breed of person with the peasant's streak that loves to work, a ”boy“ from the village who developed into the chief finance controller of the country. He is destined for results. Our faction will vote for his candidacy,” ensured Elena Drapeko from the Fair Russia party.
The largest party in Parliament also liked what they saw.
“The questions from the deputies of the United Russia faction to Mr Zubkov concerned the strategic development of our country. We received comprehensive answers. United Russia doesn't have any doubts left in voting for Zubkov. We are unanimously for him,” Boris Gryzlov, head of the United Russia party, stated.
So even without the Communist Party’s approval, Zubkov enjoys the support of a comfortable majority in the Duma, making his appointment virtually guaranteed.
Aleksandr Lebedev from the Fair Russia party shared his thoughts on the presidential nominee.
”The general impression about him is that, first of all, he is fit for the job as far as his qualifications are concerned. He's got an economics degree, he’s spent quite a long time as a manager in agriculture, then he worked in the sphere of taxes and his last job was in the Financial Monitoring Service, which deals with a very important part of the Russian economy, which is the money that goes beyond governmental control. There is no gossip linking him to any private business interests – his wife is not on the Forbes list and she's not in construction.
From the point of view of the questions raised, I mean for example, we’ve been interested in whether the relations between the parliament and the government may improve. I’ve quoted, for example, my own experience of winning two cases in the Supreme Court over the regulation, which now rules the governmental relations with the State Duma. We got the impression that he will pay attention specifically to how to deal with the parliament. I believe we need to change the substance of these relations. We need to shift more responsibility to the parliament,“ Aleksandr Lebedev emphasised.
As for Mr Zubkov himself, he appeared to be quite satisfied with the results of Thursday’s consultations.
“I’ve had consultations with all the factions concerning the development of the country, in particular its social sector, as well as about sports and the protection of veterans. I did my best to answer all questions. My latest meeting was with the biggest faction, United Russia. I believe all these consultations were timely as tomorrow I’m scheduled to speak at the plenary session and again to answer questions,” said Viktor Zubkov.
Tomorrow Viktor Zubkov will be answering questions from State Duma deputies. Then the vote will take place.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin himself explained on Thursday what he has in mind in proposing Mr Zubkov as candidate for Prime Minister, and what the general idea behind replacing the government was.
”In my address at the beginning of this year I said that everyone, regardless of the political calendar, including the State Duma elections and Presidential elections in March 2008, has to do their duty to the best of their ability. But my calls are one thing and the reality is another. We are all human beings, including members of the government with our own plans and expectations.
It's hard to concentrate when there's always some uncertainty about the future, as to what's going to happen to each of us, as to what the political system will be like after the events in December 2007 and March next year. So I decided to make it clear now, just like in 2004, on the eve of the elections.
I thought it was now time for a re-shuffle and some modernisation of the power structure to make sure it works during the upcoming events and to point the direction for the development of the administrative and executive branches in the period between December and March 2008. I hope all this will make people concentrate better on their work and that the whole political system in Russia will work during the elections and after them,“ he said.
Viktor Zubkov said that his priorities lie in the social sphere, which he thinks should be given more attention.
”We must pay more attention to the social sphere. Russian villages and rural settlements should be the focus of social reforms, because 40 million people live there. The national programmes and projects, as well as the President's address, say that it is necessary to increase our efforts in this area. The national programs include education, health care, housing and agriculture. Our work should improve the way of life in Russian villages. I've worked a lot in the rural area and I know for sure that the welfare of Russian villages is a guarantee of the welfare of the whole country. The security of Russia includes the safety of our food as well. We should bear it in mind.
It's important to increase pensions. We have the money and opportunity to do this. We must take steps to accelerate pension reforms. People should invest their money and the government should help its citizens.
All these questions which concern pension funding and the provision of medication, we should remember every day. And not only remember but carry out immediate measures," he stressed.