Staunton, August 29 – Social psychologists have studied something they call “the door-in-the-face technique” in which people are offered a completely unacceptable proposal, one far beyond what the person proposing it expects to get. Then, the person making the proposal backs down and people are inclined to accept the second because it is less radical than the first.
That is exactly what Vladimir Putin today has done by backing away from some but far from all of the specifics of the Russian government’s pension reform plan and that is what he expects to get, Politsovet commentator Aleksey Shaburov (http://politsovet.ru/60077-putin-podderzhal-pensionnuyu-reformu-politicheskie-posledstviya-rechi-prezidenta.html).
“The political effect of this speech certainly will be felt for a long time to come, he continues, because it is so transparent that this is what the Kremlin leader has done: He warned after the last election that there would have to be unpopular decisions taken, sat on the sidelines while the pension plan was put forward, and now has pulled back a little.
Most likely, Shaburov says, Putin knew earlier about the pension reform and fully understood what it would mean. And “probably, therefore, the possibility of softening the reform was built in from the beginning.”
But in making the concession about the retirement age for women, Putin “nevertheless did not respond to the most serious criticism of the proposed reform.” He did not address complaints that the government was boosting retirement ages for most people but leaving them in place for the siloviki, thus effectively dividing the population into social strata.
The Kremlin leader did not discuss the possibility of creating personal retirement savings plans rather than having all the dispersals come out of a common pot, presumably because that arrangement would be “much less profitable for the government apparatus.” And he didn’t talk about the fact that many Russian men will not live to the increased retirement age, a particularly sensitive issue.
“Considering this,” Shaburov says, “the president’s speech hardly will significantly change the attitude of Russians to the reform. The pension reform is almost the first case when the broad strata of society and the state apparatus were on opposite sides. Putin had to act as an arbiter in this conflict and he, albeit with some qualifications, chose the apparatus.”
There can be no doubt, the commentator continues, “the authorities will try to play the president’s speech to their advantage. Much will be said about Putin having taken responsibility for a decision of the government, about his having met the people part way, about how he conducted himself as a wide and farseeing leader of the nation.”
But on the other side of the ledger, Shaburov argues, “there will always be the recognition by people of the fact that now they will be going on pensions several years later than they had expected.”
How this will play out in public opinion will only be known in about ten days, the time it takes the major polling agencies to do their work, but past polls showed that the overwhelming majority of the population is against the reform. And the polls will undoubtedly reflect that for the first time in a long time, Putin has gone against public opinion so directly.
Perhaps the biggest change will be among the systemic opposition, Shaburov suggests. Up to now, they have criticized the pension plan as the work of the government, largely ignoring Putin. But now, at least some of them may be inclined to criticize the Kremlin leader personally – and that too may have an effect.
But one thing is clear: Putin’s speech put paid to any possibility of having a referendum on raising the pension age. He said nothing about that, and so it is almost certainly now an impossibility in Russia today.
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