The Russian Federation is holding its parliamentary elections next week, but the results have already been determined. At stake are 400 legislative seats, with 11 political parties competing for them. Despite the competition, one party stands above the rest – United Russia. United Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin’s supporting party, currently holds 305 of the 450 seats, and its numbers are expected to grow. Beyond the seats of the parliament, however, the future of Russia’s democracy is at stake.
Since Putin became president in 2000, his popularity among Russians has soared. Because of his popularity, he has been able to consolidate power around himself and the Kremlin. Laws governing elections have been rewritten, human rights have been violated, and opposition voices have been silenced. He is accused internationally of stifling freedom and retreating on the democratic principles on which the Russian Federation was built.
Even if Russia’s election is determined to be legitimate on Election Day, its process has failed to allow Russians to choose. Opposition leaders have been arrested for unknown reasons, protests have been broken up by the police, and the campaign process has been designed in such a way that only Kremlin supporters are given a voice the people can hear. The only information people are given access to paints the president and his policies in only a positive light. With unequal access to information, one should not be surprised at the overwhelming support of Putin and his policies.
While Putin is required by the constitution to step down from the presidency, it is unlikely that he will lose any power or influence in Russian politics. He has announced his intent to run for parliament, and might even seek the position of prime minister – a position he is likely to gain should he wish it. Furthermore, many believe the next president of Russia will be determined not by the result of debate and choice among the candidates, but rather by Putin’s announcement of support. Whoever Putin chooses to support is likely to succeed him.
Today, Russians are getting ready to elect their representatives for the next Parliament. While Putin declares that the elections will be free and fair for all, they will be anything but. The world has witnessed Russia’s continual rejection of impartial election monitors. Putin has, without fail, accused the West (the United States in particular) of meddling in Russian affairs – of attempting to challenge the legitimacy of Russia’s decision. His arguments have in recent months taken on a nationalistic tone that appeals to most Russians. While the West encouraged Russian officials to allow monitors into Russia in order to prove the election is legitimate, Russians declared that the monitors themselves will try to delegitimize its electoral process. Now that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, one of the most trusted and independent election monitoring groups in Europe, has announced their withdrawal from their monitoring mission in Russia, it is safe to say that Russian officials have won a key battle. Without the presence of monitors, Putin can rest assured that no one will be able to declare, with solid proof, that Sunday’s elections are unfair.
After considering the recent developments in the lead up to Sunday’s parliamentary election, one cannot but wonder how this vote can be anything but staged. While the voters will ultimately determine the winners of the election, the outcome has already been determined. The election system has been designed in such a way that Putin and United Russia cannot lose. The world is witnessing the consolidation of power around one man in a country that has a long history of rule by oppressive leaders. Under Putin, Russia’s democracy is slowly eroding. Without a change in government to a leader who is more open to democratic ideals, this process is likely to continue at the expense of the freedoms of the Russian people.
Cassandra Roseen is a University graduate student. Please send comments to [email protected]