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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Back in the USSR

I will be posting on constitutional issues, reform and a republic more often now that Mactional has put MMP back in play and the Maori Party have secured some sort of constitutional discussion. All these details: TBA.

So it is timely to remind ourselves that our current constitution - although a Prime ministerial dictatorship with heavy Westminister centralisation, a government largely unaccountable to independent courts on most constitutional issues, and with a single chamber parliament capable of ramming any constitutional law through in a matter of days or hours with only 50%+1 majority, that despite all these faults - it works. It's far from perfect, constitutional outrages still occur, but the framework and the political fabric has not been torn or strained to the extent that basic democracy itself has been imperiled. It works because we have (relatively) reasonable politicians committed to fair processes and a heritage of democracy that means opposition is just a government-in-waiting rather than a transitory status before outright public persecution by the ruling totalitarian clique. Russia, however is the inverse.

Russia has an MMP system with regional de-centralisation, autonomous areas, a bicameral legislature, elected President and a written constitution. On paper the top line constitutional safeguards look fine - much better than NZ: both houses of parliament have to agree and then the regions have to sign off. But if the political culture is from a heritage of authoritarian hard-liners and a single monolithic party and ideology then the best constitution in the world can't save them. Using these constitutional means the Kremlin politburo of shady KGB men have rolled back the constitution that was powerless to stop their advances. The change to appoint regional governors rather than elect them was the first move - that was a few years ago - now it's getting an extra two years added on the Presidential term. Then the shifty stooge in the Presidency resigns and Putin gets swept back into power - that's how it is supposed to go down. At the last elections the Kremlin-controlled media (which is just about everything now) managed to shut out the opposition voices and dodgy tactics like coercion from Putin's party were widely reported.United Russia's dominance on national airwaves ahead of Sunday's State Duma elections appears to be playing with people's minds.
Eight percent of Russians polled in mid-November said they saw United Russia officials debating candidates from other parties, while 69 percent of those who watched the debates said they were impressed with the party's performance there, according to a poll released this week by the state-controlled VTsIOM polling agency.
The thing is, United Russia did not participate in a single debate.
[...] Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Elections Commission and a former classmate of Putin's [...]

And from The Guardian today:

A Russian politician ordered the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, defence lawyers claimed yesterday at the trial of three men accused of involvement in her murder.
Last year Russia's top prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, hinted that Berezovsky had masterminded her murder from Britain, in an attempt to discredit Vladimir Putin, Russia's then president.

The oligarch, a bitter enemy of Putin, has denied any involvement.

Yesterday lawyers acting for Politkovskaya's family said it was now abundantly clear that the journalist had been murdered from inside Russia, and that her death was linked to her work. "The person who gave the order was a political figure. He clearly wasn't happy with the articles Politkovskaya wrote," said lawyer Anna Stavitskaya.

The news came as events inside the courtroom yesterday teetered on the shambolic. The judge, Yevgeny Zubov, scrapped his ruling banning the media from court. Last week Zubov said the trial would be open, but then changed his mind, claiming that the jury had objected to the presence of reporters.

However, his assertion was contradicted when one of the jurors, Yevgeny Kolesov, gave an interview to a Moscow radio station, Ekho Moskvy. Kolesov said that the jury were quite happy to have the media in court. Kolesov also told the station he was quitting as a juror in protest.

Russia's prosecutor general has now asked the judge to consider removing himself from the case - which resumes today. The scandal is embarrassing for the court and hints at external interference in Russia's judicial system.

The most astounding thing in that piece was that Russia has juries! But once again, if the officials and the people in the Kremlin - and the oligarchs - are not willing to play fair then even those democratic, participatory elements of the system will break down, or be circumvented.

Reuters reporting:
The amendments have now been passed by both chambers. The State Duma, the lower house, approved the amendments on final reading last Friday.
They now only need to be ratified by two-thirds of regional parliaments -- which are almost all dominated by Kremlin loyalists - before they can take effect.
Police detained a lone anti-Kremlin protester outside the Federation Council building after he tried to unfurl a banner criticizing the plans, a Reuters reporter said.
The proposal was first raised by President Dmitry Medvedev in his state of the nation address on November 5.
The longer Kremlin term will not apply to Medvedev's present mandate, and Putin's spokesman has said there is no plan for him to make a comeback in an early presidential election.


At 27/11/08 12:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democracy is worth fighting for, but I wouldnt overdo the differences between NZ/US and Russia.
In all of these systems the ruling class sets the agenda. In so-called democracies we tend to have illusions that this is not so, yet the election of Obama proves this is indeed so.
The charm of the Russian system is that you can see which bastards are really running the country.

At 27/11/08 12:53 pm, Anonymous Mr Magoo said...

In other news:
China is not a democracy and nobody important seems to care.

Both these countries will form equal parts of the new world order. Welcome.


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