Learning from Putin’s reversal

English: MOSCOW. At the 9th United Russia Part...Image via Wikipedia

Ceritalah By Karim Raslan

Slick but cynical power-exchange with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev outraged millions of ordinary Russians who vented their anger whenever former strongman Vladimir Putin appeared.

BECAUSE my work is now so South-East Asia-centric, I rarely follow the news from Europe closely.

Still, I think we can learn valuable lessons from the recent developments in Russia.

On Dec 4, Russians went to the polls to elect a new State Duma – their lower house of Parliament.

Although he was not running in the election, the vote was seen as a test of the popularity of strongman Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to regain the presidency of the Russian Federation after three years as Prime Minister, replacing his former trusted aide Dmitry Medvedev.

Most observers expected the United Russia Party to secure a thumping majority.

Putin’s party had, after all, engineered Russia’s remarkable economic turnaround after the fall of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin’s chaotic tenure.

The brusque St Petersburg veteran was the party’s “killer app” – popular and ruthless: an embodiment of Russian machismo.

However, Putin’s return to the centre-stage wasn’t quite so well-received: the slick but cynical power-exchange with Medvedev outraged millions of ordinary Russians.

As a result, Putin’s standing in the opinion polls plummeted. At the same time, public sentiment turned ugly.

Denied access to the mainstream media, ordinary Russians vented their anger whenever Putin appeared.

On one occasion, he was booed at a mixed martial arts match – an incident captured on YouTube and viewed by millions.

Moreover, Putin’s United Russia fared even worse as voters realised that they would be enduring yet another term of massive, institutionalised corruption and abuse of power by high-handed party apparatchiks.

In the end, Putin received a stinging rebuke as his party ended up winning just 49.3% of the vote – leaving it with about 238 seats in the 450-seat Duma compared to its previous 315.

To make matters worse, allegations of electoral fraud – also immortalised on YouTube – have led to demonstrations in Moscow.

More are in the offing, leading some to wonder whether the world will witness yet another “spring”.

Putin reacted in his tough-guy way, sending police out on a crackdown and insisting that he will still run for president in March next year.

Nevertheless, United Russia’s electoral drubbing cannot help but damage his image as a popular, performance-driven autocrat.

What can we learn from Putin’s (excuse my pun) Russian reversal?

First, it again shows the power of the alternative media.

Putin’s control of Russia’s newspapers and televisions may be absolute, but this stranglehold can do nothing to prevent Russians from turning to blogs and social networks to express their disenchantment.

As with the Arab Spring, Facebook, YouTube and Russia’s own VKontakte have emerged as powerful tools to mobilise the masses against autocrats.

Which brings me to my next point: style cannot trump substance, especially when it comes to reform.

Putin’s obsession with spin is legendary – witness the proliferation of photos of him doing manly things like hunting, horseback riding or scuba-diving.

The United Russia party’s website is, likewise, flashy with links to its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Read through the speeches of Putin or his sidekick Medvedev and you will often find them extolling democracy and moderation.

Still, these carefully-crafted images cannot conceal the fact that poverty and corruption run deep in Russia despite its economic successes.

While oligarchs close to the Kremlin enjoy the high life, the number of people living under the official poverty line increased from 20.6 million in the first quarter of last year to 22.9 million this year.

Also, the abuse of civil liberties under Putin’s watch is just as brutal as anything that occurred under the Tsars or the Communist Party.

Erstwhile allies, long-time dissidents and critical journalists were silenced, jailed and, in some cases, even died under highly suspicious circumstances.

Worst of all is Putin’s stubborn desire to cling to power.

Had he stepped down gracefully in 2008 having served two terms as president, he would have been hailed as the man who revived Russia despite the rough methods he used.

As it is, he now risks being just the latest of a long line of leaders who overstayed their welcome and were toppled.

One can detect painful shades of toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Putin’s blaming of Hillary Clinton for supposedly inciting the protests.

So it’s simply not enough these days for politicians to possess the formal, outward trappings of democracy or social engagement (like Facebook or Twitter pages) if they do nothing to increase the public space and empower their people.

More importantly, they need to realise that they fool no one when they speak of the need for reform but do nothing to change the status quo.

Indeed, such disingenuousness will come back to haunt leaders.

What I find remarkable about the Russian demonstrations against electoral fraud is that most of the protestors were middle-class: urban, young and well-to-do Muscovites who theoretically should have benefitted most from Putin’s management.

They ought to have been, and indeed were, his political base.

However, after years of being lied to, frustrated or simply ignored, Russia’s bourgeoisie (now 20% of the population after the oil boom) are now emerging as the force that could bring Putin down.


Certification for Malaysian IT pros ?

The Register® — Biting the hand that feeds IT

Government seeks BOFH control By Natalie Apostolou

A proposal to introduce a bill to force all IT workers in Malaysia to be certified and registered via a single industry body has sparked agitation in the tech sector.

If the proposed legislation, the Board of Computing Professionals Malaysia Bill 2011 (BCPM), is passed, Malaysia will be the first country with a law which requiring IT professionals to be registered with a board before being allowed to practice.

Under the draft bill any professional registering with the board would have to pass examinations, possess professional experience and pay registration fees.

Those against the law claim that the talent pool may shrink if such stipulations are introduced and fear that the board will have too much control over who can be registered, or certified for lucrative government tenders.

The tech community has released a “Common Voice of ICT Professionals” response to the government proposal, stating that the industry is “alarmed” and “caught most of us off-guard”.

“We have not found any information and substantiation that suggests or concludes that the formation of the Board of Computing Professionals is the right and only answer to amicably resolve all matters that the Government perceive to be issues relating to the ICT profession, if such issues indeed do exist in the first place.”

Also under the draft of the proposed bill, unregistered IT professionals will not be allowed to “practice, carry on business or take up employment which requires him to carry out or perform the services of a Registered Computing Professional”. They are also forbidden from gaining any fees, charges, remuneration or other form of consideration for any professional technology services rendered. ®

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MCA against listing IT pros under a regulatory body

The Star 13/12/2011

MALACCA: MCA has voiced its objection against a proposed move by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry to register IT practitioners in the country under a regulatory body known as the Board of Computing Professionals.

Party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said it was strongly against the proposed exercise embarked by the ministry.

“We will be made a laughing stock in the global arena if we go ahead with the proposed body. Nowhere else is there such a regulatory body,” he said after attending Kota Melaka 1MCA Medical Foundation dinner here last night.

He said the ministry should first seek feedback from IT practitioners before coming up with such a plan.

“The board is unnecessary because a code of conduct or guideline is more suitable.

“Furthermore, the fact is undeniable that most of the pioneer members of the local IT Industry are not those from IT background. Yet, they were able to soar,” he said, adding that he had expressed MCA’s opposition against the board to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

On another matter, Dr Chua called on Opposition leaders, especially those from PAS, to understand the religions practised by the Chinese community such as Buddhism and Taoism before making baseless comments.

He claimed that PAS leaders had made derogatory remarks during their ceramah, labelling the Chinese as “praying to Datuk Kong and Pai Kong and later may worship King Kong”.

“MCA is willing to provide classes to PAS leaders if they don’t understand the tenets and teaching of other religions,” he said.

New Bill will restrict IT users, says Pua

KUALA LUMPUR: There is no need to impose bureaucratic control over the information technology (IT) in Malaysia, said DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua.

He said the proposed Computer Professionals Bill (CPB) 2011 would restrict those using IT, despite assurances by the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry that there will not be any restrictions on computing services.

He added the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantees had promised “unrestricted employment of knowledge workers” and “no censorship of the Internet”.

“The information technology and computing industry has been operating without controversy, issues or impediment for the past decade.

“There is absolutely no bureaucratic requirement to restrict and control the industry, which will only bring adverse outcomes without any corresponding tangible benefit,” Pua said in a statement here yesterday.

IT professionals had raised a stink over the CPB 2011 since a copy of the Bill’s draft was made available online on Thursday.

Related post:

 IT folk upset over draft Bill Dec 10, 2011

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