Excerpts from transcript of meeting with Public Supporters’ Committee
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon,
Well, as we agreed not so long ago, I said that I would meet with you the day after the State Duma election. To be honest, I don’t have any particular aim or agenda at the ready. Of course, I want above all to thank you all for taking part in the Public Committee and setting out your views on a diverse range of issues. Actually, I made use of the views you put forward in a number of cases. This was the direct significance and purpose of the work that you did over the last month and a bit. And so I want to thank you all because your input really was very useful.
Second, I want to thank everyone who supported me and supported United Russia over what was not the easiest time for the party and indeed for the country, given that any election campaign is always a big test. I thank everyone who voted for United Russia, though I know some of you here today have other political convictions. This is a normal thing because this gathering after all is a committee of supporters and the prototype of our future extended government, our future open government.
Third, whatever many people might think, we are not about to bury this extended government idea today. I did not get you all together in order to then turn up and say, “Thanks everyone, we’ve achieved our goal, and now you can all go your separate ways and pretend we’re all still in close contact.” Out of the question! We will continue our contact, in defiance of the customary habits of government work in our country, when people group together around the leaders and bosses, and then the leaders shake their hands, maybe even give out a few medals, and everyone vanishes again. We have a different mission, and so let’s start outlining our future work plans here today.
”Discussion and debate between people usually end up producing more balanced decisions, whether in the economy, the social sector, or any other area of life. More energetic parliament will be good for our country, and I hope we will have just such a parliament.“
Fourth, yesterday’s election was very different to what we have seen in the past, and for a number of reasons. I can share my own impressions with you. United Russia got what the voters gave it, no less and no more. This is precisely the whole sense of completely free, fair, and democratic elections. The party got more or less what the various sociological agencies predicted in their preliminary surveys and exit polls, plus or minus a little. All the talk about rampant use of administrative resources to influence the vote are… I mean, where are they, these resources? We realise, of course, how complex and diverse life is. I watched a few videos people posted on the internet, but you can’t see anything there. You’ve got people sounding the alarm and shouting that it’s a disgrace. Of course, allegations of violations must be properly examined.
But I think that United Russia made a decent showing, as I said yesterday to the party’s members at the campaign headquarters. The result was the justified outcome of the party’s development over these last years, taking its various merits and shortcomings into account. It is also a reflection of the authorities’ work over this period. Yes, we still have problems, still have unresolved issues, and very big tasks to address. Of course people’s views differ here. No tragedy has taken place, in any case, and on the contrary, I think the result is perfectly decent and fair.
To be honest, I am happy that we will have a more ‘lively’ parliament now. We all know, after all, that the truth comes out of discussion and debate. No one has a monopoly on truth and on setting unquestionably right approaches and policies. Discussion and debate between people usually end up producing more balanced decisions, whether in the economy, the social sector, or any other area of life. I therefore think that a ‘livelier’ and more energetic parliament will be good for our country, and I hope we will have just such a parliament.
What else can I say? We need to look to the future. The future is what has brought us together. We can discuss in brief the events that have just taken place, but I propose that we concentrate more on drawing our plans for the future.
I said to you that this idea of open, extended government will go ahead only if a number of conditions are met. The first was that United Russia wins the election. United Russia has secured an absolute majority in the State Duma, thus receiving a legal mandate from almost half of Russia’s voters to work on their behalf. We will thus continue the discussion in this area.
That is probably enough for now. Let’s share some impressions, talk about who has been doing what, who has encountered what problems. Perhaps something interesting might come up.
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My feelings about the results for United Russia are quite positive, because it received exactly the amount of support that it enjoys among our citizens – no more and no less. But it has also essentially formed and maintains an absolute majority in the State Duma.
This does not mean we shouldn’t draw any conclusions. This is not a party meeting, but nevertheless, there are different results, and given our current system for vesting power in governors — through a legislative body, by party nomination and ultimately approved by the President, — I feel that we need to pay attention to the regions where our people did not show real confidence in United Russia. Not because this is a tragedy, but because it is a signal to those in power. It means that in those parts of the nation, United Russia does not achieve the level of success it could. Because there are nearby territories with similar conditions, but for some reason, the situation is different from one place to another. This means that the regional authorities are not working the way we want them to work. But that is more a question of the organisational decisions I must make as President of the Russian Federation, and I have warned the governors about it.
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Yesterday, I had telephone conversations with the heads of our other parties. They’ve often told me, “We don’t get enough TV coverage and we can’t make our position heard.” This time, TV has shown everything as it is, and incidentally, this was reflected quite accurately on United Russia’s results, because we must admit, our colleagues from the opposition parties focused their main attacks on United Russia. I would do the same in their place, because we are the party that is responsible for everything, and they are the opposition. As a result, virtually all airtime was devoted to “slamming” United Russia, but that’s what competition is all about, and they had all the opportunities to do it. That is why, I emphasise again, nobody has complained on this topic.
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I was just sitting and thinking that even if nothing else came of this, at the very least, as you rightly pointed out, we have taken on a great number of challenges, I gave many instructions concerning these challenges, and work is currently underway to fulfil them (indeed, during the pre-election cycle, things tend to be done more rapidly; that is the logic of pre-election life). Most importantly, we have been able to address a whole set of issues that seem to be well-known, and at the same time, which have been bounced back and forth between the President, the Government, and the ministers.
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You said many interesting things about the political system. You said that it is becoming more developed. I agree. And moreover, in my view, what’s very important is that it’s becoming refined. Linear technologies are no longer working. Incidentally, this is an important conclusion for United Russia as the largest political force, holding a majority, and for other parties. We must learn to use different technologies; we need to communicate with people directly. After all, this Public Supporters’ Committee was created in order for you, as communicators, to let me know about your problems, and those who are ready to be employed in civil service can ultimately work for the Cabinet and in other government bodies. And I think it is also very important that we have tested this way of working, because we almost never use it in Russia, while all these technologies with modern names like “crowdsourcing” and the like are getting heir way all around the world.
By the way, nobody fully knows yet how to work with them, but they occasionally give astounding results in terms of how to determine the most influential development trends, find interesting solutions, or gather as many people as possible and show them that they are needed, that the authorities are not ignoring them, that, for example, the decisions of the government were born through a multi-channel discussion. That is where the future lies. I have been saying this for a long time, but perhaps not everyone is hearing these words. Why did I begin talking about the arrival of the direct democracy era before others did? Because all you are doing – when you are using various phones or other gadgets – is communicating with one another. In many cases, this communication is quite important for the government, or it may even become indispensable for the government. It will not necessarily involve a referendum as the highest manifestation of the will of the people, but may involve roundabout, or sometimes even direct forms of influencing the authorities’ decision-making, which the authorities cannot avoid, regardless of what they say. And we need to learn all of this. Incidentally, this is one of the lessons of this campaign.
I’ve already said everything about the Duma. It is true that as a result of a difficult battle, United Russia nevertheless gained a majority in an absolutely lawful, legitimate way. But let me remind you, yesterday, when speaking to other leaders, I said that United Russia is open for cooperation, including through coalitions. Although United Russia gained a majority, and seemingly does not need to reach deals with anyone, I will say again that we must enter into blocs and coalitions. First, in cases contemplated by our Constitution, because there are constitutional laws, and second, we are interested in our laws to be approved by as great a majority as possible, we want to participate in discussions. I feel that we should continue this through a dialogue with our colleagues, leaders of other parties. I hope they once again hear my words on this matter. The idea of a coalition is not off the table; this idea is positive and it is the right one.
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On the subject of a modern parliament, of course we all want to have an effectively functioning parliament. When I spoke calling on everyone to come and vote, not just for United Russia, but in general, calling on everyone simply to take part in the election, I noted just how vital it is for us to have an effective parliament. First of all, we remember how laws went through the parliament in the 1990s, and with what results. It was constant deadlock between the presidential authorities, the Government, and the parliament, and this is always disastrous for a country at Russia’s stage of development. Second, we see how we have learned to find a common language on all manner of different issues over these last years. And so I think this is the best time to press ahead with this now.
”United Russia is interested in our laws to be approved by as great a majority as possible, we want to participate in discussions. We should continue this through a dialogue with our colleagues, leaders of other parties. The idea of a coalition is not off the table; this idea is positive and it is the right one.“
On the election, it is over now, but the discussions continue. You mentioned the majority system. I have said at meetings with political analysts, my supporters, my government colleagues, and with everyone in general, that our political system is not some set and frozen thing, but is something we are changing. We had the 7-percent threshold [for entering the State Duma], and we are now lowering it to 5 percent. This is normal: the system is ready for this change, and thus it was that the State Duma gave its backing to this presidential initiative.
The majority system would be possible perhaps in a new form. There are proposals along these lines, for example the idea of using the majority electoral district system, but keep it based on party lists, so as not to lose the party-based nature of our parliament, otherwise we would end up with anarchy and a return to the early 1990s. But this is a possible idea that we can discuss. It would help to bring to the fore the kind of charismatic figures one often finds in the regions, the kind of leaders of public opinion who always emerge, but who are sometimes kept down or even squeezed aside by local regional bosses. We are aware of this situation.
Looking at the situation with United Russia, for example, the party did not do so well in some regions not because people do not have confidence in it — although of course there are some people who do not have confidence in it, which is normal, since this is a democracy — but simply because the local bureaucrats annoy them. They look at them and say, “Them lot there, if that is United Russia, there’s no way I’m going to vote for that party.” This is a lesson to us too, and overall, this is a completely natural reaction.
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When I made my statement [Statement in connection with the situation concerning the NATO countries’ MDS in Europe], of course I set off a flood of comments along the lines of, “Yes, of course, he’s doing this to bolster United Russia’s position just before the election and his own position as transformations take place at the top.” In other words, people suggested I was acting simply out of concerns of the moment.
Now that the election is over, let me take this opportunity to say to everyone that this was a carefully considered decision that was the result of much reflection. It makes me sad, because I did not want to make this decision, but had no choice. Of course, I do not know how it will ultimately be interpreted, but I can say one simple thing that should provoke you all into some thinking. It has been a long time since I have seen such unanimity on the position taken by the country’s leadership. Everyone – left and right, young and old – favour a firm response. This is what our people want, is this not so?
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The environment is everyone’s concern, and the biggest responsibility now lies on the ruling party’s shoulders. I would not say that we have done nothing, but it is clear that we have still done too little, including as concerns creating incentives to encourage the companies that damage our environment and create problems for our country’s development to change their behaviour. You are right in saying that people see us as a sort of treasure trove. This is the truth. When I meet with my foreign colleagues I say, “No matter what, we have 10 percent of the world’s ploughed land and 20 percent of the world’s fresh water resources.” Energy resources – coal, gas, nuclear energy and so on – can change, but these treasures remain, because humanity will always need to eat and drink. In this sense, Russia cannot be ignored and we need to properly manage and use these resources.
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I have not commented on this matter yet because I think that the situation in South Ossetia should be left to follow its own internal course. Of course, I am not happy either to see them quarrelling, which can happen, of course, especially in small places. This is an affair between a handful of players representing different clans that, to tell the truth, do quarrel periodically. The problem is that this affects the interests of this republic, which we have supported and will continue to support. All of our decisions remain in force of course, and will stay this way. But they must decide for themselves who will run their country, and we have recognised South Ossetia as a sovereign state under international law, after all. Naturally, we are ready to help by sending mediators, say, and we will do this. But the authorities there need to reach agreements among themselves and realise their responsibility for this small but proud people. Rather than pointing the finger Moscow’s way, the different parties concerned must make responsible decisions. If they cannot do this they will have problems. They need to reach agreements.
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I propose that we not write a full stop here, but leave things open. We will meet again and discuss our agenda for the coming months and years, taking into account that we have gone through one election now, and we still have another coming up, and then a real official government will be formed. The ‘extended government’ or ‘open government’ should participate actively in this work, and so we need to set our plans for the coming months and for the work that will follow. My position is that both governments should exist side by side: the official government formed in accordance with the law, and our open government.
I want to say to you all a big thank you once again for being with me during this not so easy time. This was a real help to me, and I say this now not as President or as the leader of the party list, but simply as a person with feelings of my own and a vision of my role and place in life, what I do, and how I do it. I felt that you were helping me simply by being there. Everyone gets criticised, and no one likes criticism, but let me tell you, when you are president you have this criticism simply pouring in 24 hours a day. I’m not complaining. It’s a normal part of any state or government leader’s life, but when you know you’ve got some moral support behind you it is a real help, and that is the truth.
So, thank you very much. Until we meet again.
Let me congratulate you all again, too. You did an excellent job!