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.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
But opposition leaders, even those whose parties are represented on the ballot, offer a completely different picture. They describe a carefully stage-managed system in which candidate lists are winnowed by Kremlin apparatchiks, in which opposition politicians must scramble for tiny crumbs of media coverage, and local officials use a variety of heavy-handed tactics to contain their campaigns within tightly enclosed limits. Some warn that authorities may resort to large-scale vote-rigging on election day, as has been credibly reported in the past, if voters turn against the ruling party in decisive numbers.
"As a party, we are using all possible means that are available to us in an authoritarian state," says Grigory Yavlinsky, founder and head of Yabloko, a grass-roots liberal party that had a significant presence in the Duma until it was squeezed out in the first Putin-era parliamentary elections in 2003. "I doubt that any of our European colleagues, who are accustomed to working in democratic conditions, can imagine what we face in conditions of elections that are simply not honest."
Another liberal party, the pro-business Right Cause, imploded spectacularly in September, offering observers a brief but instructive glimpse into the system's inner workings. The party's leader and chief financier, industrialist Mikhail Prokhorov – who has since virtually disappeared from public life – angrily quit the party and publicly accused the Kremlin's chief political architect, Vladislav Surkov, of dictating permissible party candidates and political positions, and then orchestrating an inner-party mutiny against Prokhorov when he disobeyed.