Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Preserving Putin's Position of Power

Russia's largest voter turnout in its political history at 62%, gave Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party an overwhelming 64.1% of votes cast. Vladimir Putin's position of power is thus preserved even after he steps down as President in March 2008.

Such overwhelming victory normally produces images of citizens greeting the triumph with excitement, hope, and jubilation. In this instance, what is evident is resigned acceptance, like the silence of the lambs.

The Party's victory means it will get 315 out of 450 seats in Russia's Parliament (Duma), roughly 70%. The communists with their old and shrinking constituency won only 50 seats.
Mr Putin has repeatedly gave assurances that the constitution will not be violated by running for a third term, but has also said that a strong election performance for United Russia grants him the "moral right" to retain power.

What form will this "moral right" take?

Putin could be the the Prime Minister or chair United Russia. The Presidential candidate to be nominated would be a mere Putin Puppet while he pulls the strings that orchestrates the would be President's directions; changing the country's political make-up and turning parliament into a formidable power base. In 8 years, Putin has consolidated his power well, with control of media and use of state resources for the systematic harassment of the opposition. Anyone he supports for President will win. Also, anyone he withdraws support from will be a pariah.

What will be the face of this "moral right" to retain power? The recent past would provide some hints.

Accusing the west of interfering with Russia's elections that hinders the applied pressure to initiate reforms; delay in the issuance of Visa's to foreign observers to prevent meaningful monitoring of elections; extensive media for United Russia, very limited for the opposition; prevention of campaign materials placement and distribution; stuffed ballot boxes, soldiers filling up ballot boxes, 98% voter turnout in Chechnya, busing and trucking in of voters; state resources used for United Russia; jailing of opposition leaders, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

The quiet acceptance of Putin is borne out of Russia's oil-driven economic boom, and bringing back the citizen's pride somehow, by the re-emergence of Russia as a great power; and its renewed influence on the global stage. The disappearance of long lines of hunger and confusion during the Yeltsin years have predisposed Russians to look the other way as far as Democracy is concerned.

The reality is, Political Democracy has not taken root and the Russian majority don"t seem to care. An opinion poll conducted in February had 65% failing to describe what liberal democracy is and were uncertain of its relevance. In terms of preference, 35% chose the old Soviet System, while 26% preferred the current system. Only 16% selected the western model.

America's problem is its insistence on its model or any acceptable western model. What will work for Russia is something they have to decide and evolve from within. The drawback is that abuse is a very real possibility. Putin once described his model as "managed democracy", a term subject to a wide spectrum of interpretation... by Putin.

Another hint at the face of Putin's "moral right" is the appointment of Andrei Lugovoi as Deputy. This ex-KGB officer was the chief suspect in the murder by poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.

As it stands, America and the West cannot do anything against the emergence of a new Russian Czar. The quiet resignation of Russian citizens who have been on survival mode since Gorbachev's rule and confused by all the democratic talk they don't understand, are in for a long, cold and harsh rule - tempered by sporadic acts of charity and goodwill - from a cold, harsh, and determined leader.

"Managed democracy" is a euphemism for "manipulated democracy". The question is, what western democracy is not guilty of manipulation? That's perhaps the reason it is called a "Democratic Form" of government. The substance is not .


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