Vladimir Putin's 'managed democracy' faces key test in Russia
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has trumpeted a system of 'managed democracy' that has virtually guaranteed his party's grip on Russian politics – until now.
Russians are expected to turn out in large numbers Sunday to choose a new parliament, after a controversial election campaign that the Kremlin describes as a healthy exercise in democracy but which even participating opposition party leaders denounce as little more than a charade.Skip to next paragraph
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Russia-watchers will be scrutinizing these polls closely because they represent the pinnacle of "managed democracy," the somewhat paradoxical electoral system constructed over the past decade by Vladimir Putin, which creates the detailed impression of functioning multi-party political competition while ensuring that outcomes fall within a range dictated by the Kremlin.
Since Mr. Putin himself appears poised to return to supreme power in presidential elections early next year for at least one more six-year term, and he has ruled out any major reform of the political system, the current campaign to replace the 450-seat State Duma offers the clearest glimpse available of how Russian politics are likely to unfold over the foreseeable future.
"Russia is developing democracy, but the government must build the foundations for it," including law-and-order, social stability, raised living standards and an evolved, responsible civil society, he adds.
Support for United Russia is slipping
Kremlin spin doctors stress their narrative, which is that Sunday's elections will feature a free choice by Russian voters among an acceptable range of viable alternatives. On the surface, it's a persuasive case. Seven parties, spanning a full spectrum from the Communist Party on the left, to the liberal Yabloko, to the nationalist Patriots of Russia, are on the ballot and at least three of them are projected to pass the 7 percent hurdle they need to clear to enter the 450-seat State Duma.
Though the commanding heights of Russia's media are state-controlled, and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party has been granted the lion's share of positive coverage, opposition parties have been able to get their message out. Perhaps most telling of all, as public opinion polls show UR's popular support slipping below the crucial 50 percent mark, there have been signs of sincere panic among top officials.
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Speaking to a meeting of top UR apparatchiks last week, Putin urged them to redouble efforts to get out the vote Sunday, warning that loss of the parliament's pro-Kremlin majority could plunge Russia into a crisis similar to that currently shaking the European Union.
If UR loses control of the legislature "we would not be able to make the necessary decisions on time and could find ourselves at the line that our partners and friends in Europe have found themselves at," Putin said.
Elections are 'simply not honest'
Mr. Markov, and other pro-Putin politicians, argue that signs like this illustrate that Russian elections are essentially democratic, and that the choices made by voters will make a difference in the composition of power.