Parliamentary democracy 'catastrophe' for Russia: Medvedev
Parliamentary democracy would be catastrophic for Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday, showing his suspicion of Western systems of government despite a drive to modernise the country.
Medvedev, who liberals hoped would prove a major political reformer when he took power in 2008, told a meeting of international experts that Russia's system of government was not in need of major change.
"Nothing needs to be radically changed. Not because it is not allowed, but because there is no need," Medvedev told the meeting in the Volga city of Yaroslavl.
Medvedev said Russia does not want a system like that of Kyrgyzstan, which is due to elect a strong parliament in October after agreeing constitutional changes that decreased the powers of the president.
"We are told about parliamentary democracy and our Kyrgyz friends have gone along that path," he said.
"But for Russia -- and I fear for Kyrgyzstan -- parliamentary democracy is a catastrophe," he added.
Russian politics is dominated by the president and his powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, with the pliant parliament usually only providing a loyal rubber stamp for legislation proposed from above.
Although touted by his supporters as a liberal moderniser, critics accuse Medvedev of doing nothing to dismantle the strong state control imposed on Russian politics over the last years.
Little serious criticism ever comes from parliament, police regularly break up even small-scale opposition protests and, crucially, changes that abolished the elections of regional governors in 2004 remain firmly in place.
Since former president Putin rose to power 10 years ago, Russian officials have insisted the country will develop its own political system sometimes called "sovereign democracy".
State television pictures showed Medvedev addressing the experts sitting next to the Kremlin's shadowy chief idealogue Vladislav Surkov, seen by many as the architect of the current political system.
Medvedev admitted that Russia had endured a "difficult relationship" with democracy in its history and amid the chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s many had associated democracy with poverty.
But he said Russia did not want to go along the path of China by developing the economy and keeping all political reform in check. "We have good relations but they have their path and it is not possible for us," the Kremlin chief said.
Anyone who says that Russia has a totalitarian system is "either lying or has a terrible memory," he said. Medvedev said protests were "normal" but had to take place "within the limits of the law".
"Democracy is not only about freedom but also self-restriction," he added.
Medvedev has made the theme of his presidency an ambitious modernisation drive to end corruption and wean Russia off its dependence on hydrocarbon reserves by building an innovation-based economy.
A lawyer by training, he took over the Kremlin after ex-KGB agent Putin ruled Russia as president for the maximum two consecutive terms allowed by the constitution.
But the prime minister is allowed to stand in the next presidential elections and speculation is high that Putin might run, especially after he dropped a reference this week to four-term US president Franklin Roosevelt.
Medvedev's spokeswoman said Friday his modernisation plans for Russia are not just for one presidential term, in a possible hint he is interested in a second mandate in 2012.
"The plans set out by the president have not been formulated for one, two or three years," Natalya Timakova told state English language channel Russia Today in an interview.
"Achieving these goals goes beyond the term of one presidential mandate."
© 2010 AFP