For Chechen hetman Ramzan Kadyrov, last weekend’s Duma elections was just another opportunity to show his loyalty to Moscow and further entrench his own power. 99.36 percent of the Chechen vote–574,101 votes out of an electorate of 580,918–went to United Russia. A staggering turnout of 99.5 percent. A number which appeared to Central Electoral Commission head Vladimir Churov as “absolutely pure, transparent and logical.”
Kadyrov himself explained the United Russia’s excessive landslide as simply the reflection of the people’s trust. “There’s nothing unexpected here” he said. “The federal list was headed by head of state Vladimir Putin and in Chechnya the president of the republic was first on the list. The vote showed how much trust the leaders of the country enjoy.”
Yes, trust. And Kadyrov made sure to capitalize on this “trust”. For alongside electing four members to the State Duma, all of which are part of Kadyrov’s khvost–Akhmar Zavgayev, Adam Delimkhanov (Chechen deputy Prime Minister), Magomed Vakhayev (head of the Chechen Constitutional Court) and Said Yakhihajiev–was a referendum that changed the Chechen Constitution so Kadyrov could be president in perpetuity. The referendum received 85 percent approval. Considering that United Russia got 99 percent of the vote, perhaps Kadyrov’s 85 percent should be considered a somewhat of a defeat. What? His people couldn’t muscle that extra 15 percent?
For Kadyrov’s allies, the referendum’s passage was all part of Plan Kadyrov. Chechen Parliament speaker Dukvakh Abdurakhmanov said, “Two terms of four years – that’s just a western stereotype. Who came up with the idea, why do we have to follow it? I think that to end all the transformations and reforms we have begun a leader needs between 22 and 27 years.” 22 to 27 years!? When do the coronation invitations go out?
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As I’m write, the last day of electioneering is closing in Moscow. Now we wait for Sunday to see the results of what some Western media outlets are speculating might be “Russia’s last,” “the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed,” and a symbol of Russia’s return to “a Byzantine form of state-society relations” where the national leader is transformed into a “semi-divine figure.” “Democracy” in Russia, says the Guardian, is about to depart. If it is departing, then what will it leave behind? Yes, United Russia’s recent media blitz has boosted Putin’s approval ratings as high as 80 percent, all but ensuring that it will sweep the elections with overwhelming force. Come Monday, can we expect Putin to make a statement similar to “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in the — after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election.”? For as some are saying, this is less of a parliamentary election than a referendum on Putin himself.
Thank god we have the eXile to remind us a different time, roughly ten years ago, when the NY Times hailed Russia most corrupt election to date, the Presidential elections of 1996, “A Victory for Russian Democracy.” In an interview with the eXile, Michael Meadowcroft, who then headed the OSCE’s mission to monitor the Russian polls, explains how “he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.” The story about how a politically embattled and unpopular Yeltsin beat Communist Party candidate Zyuganov is a staple in understanding 1990s Russia. And if the deluge of reports about election fraud in Sunday’s election are any indication, it’s also a tactic worth repeating with only a few minor upgrades.
It’s also a reminder of how the West’s problem with Russia’s democracy is not one about “democracy” as such. It’s about the for who democracy benefits. Now granted, the concern over Russian democracy has little to do with the Russian people, that is except for the few idealists who still hold on to its revolutionary potential. The Russian people are only rhetorically taken into consideration. The language of “human rights” is merely a linguistic truncheon wielded in the hope that Russia might bend to Western hegemony. The question of Russian democracy is not about all those moral trappings. It’s about who holds power and to what end. And if the election was a referendum on a Russian candidate that was more amendable to West’s collective economic and political interests, there is no doubt that much of the reporting on electoral fraud would be muted.
No, this won’t be Russia’s last election. Because if anything this election has proven that democracy is an effective way to rule. Just look at all the fancy tools it provides for coning the masses into thinking that the powerful actually have their best interests at heart. Advertising, opinion polls, focus groups, exit polls, internet campaigns, even phone messages to voters mobile phones are all deployed with market precision. Much is made of Russia’s virtual politics, but what is often forgotten is that there is nothing particularly Russian about it. One day, hopefully not far into the distant future, all of us on this planet will realize that democracy has lost its revolutionary potential and that through the nexus of technology and power it has become one with the various apparatuses of control. In the meantime, United Russia’s perfection of democracy’s deployment should make Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s own version of Karl Rove, smile at his greatest creation: managed democracy.
The word “managed” evokes images of performance. We see a whole host of managed performances taking shape on the eve of the polls opening. Since the results of Sunday’s poll will prove to be anti-climatic, the only potential snag in the election would be low voter turnout. Low turnout is proving to be Putin’s soft underbelly. And it’s a weakness that is partially his own making. It was Putin that declared the election to be a referendum on his rule. Low turnout, even if the margin of victory is vast, will be a dagger to Putin’s side. However, if polls conducted by the Levada Center are any indication the turnout will be more than adequate. It’s predicted that 63 percent of Russians plan on voting Sunday. This is despite that fact that 85 percent of television viewers pay no attention to political coverage.
However, a Russian “silent majority” won’t fly. While low turnout is a signal of the “satisfied voter” in the United States, in Russia, non-participation is a sign of protest and discontent. Mobilizing the vote therefore takes on special significance since when considering Russia’s history of democracy, whether “socialist” or otherwise, the ritual of participation has always been emphasized. You see this in efforts to mobilize voters to participate in elections for local soviets in the 1920s. Sure the elections were single candidate and rigged, but that didn’t stop the Soviet regime from dumping resources into going through the motions. The very form of democracy has always been more important than its content, and now is no different. As Boris Kagarlitsky rightly notes,
The authorities cannot control whom we give our votes to but in every possible way try to make us participate in the electoral process. They are more concerned with the turnout than with the electoral preferences. There is certain logic to this position. Compulsory social rituals like coming to the polls are important to the authorities despite all the futility of the polls themselves. They want us to act in certain situations blindly and without dissent. Training obedience is the central element to the domination system.
I couldn’t agree more. This makes for an interesting comparison with the United States. While in the latter control is administered via apathy, alienation, and individualist driven consumerism, in Russia, at least until commodity production has fully sown its alienating seeds, the ritual still matters. The system’s legitimacy is still dependent to some extent on civic participation. The very fact that Russians will vote at all helps to re-inscribe the system’s right to exist and do so as it sees fit.
One thing that shouldn’t slip from the observer’s eye is how this re-inscribing is facilitated by the wedding of Russian capital with “managed democracy.” Notice how mobile companies like Beeline, Megaphon, and Sky Link have all jumped on board to mobilize the vote. Their customers will receive unsolicited text messages like “Go vote on 2 December! Your vote is important to the entire country!” All of this is done at the behest of Russia’s Election Commission. Voter mobilization will also take on more analog forms. Polling stations around the country plan on doling out food, coupon booklets, medical exams, haircuts, prizes, and other items to wet the civil appetite.
Russia’s political and economic class will certainly led a hand. Industrialists big and small like Sergei Nedoroslev, the owner of Kaskol, see election day like a holiday where families gather and vote together. “I live and vote here [in Moscow],” he told Vedomosti. “And I have not missed one single election. It’s a holiday, buns will be given!” He plans on escorting his wife to the polls after lunch. So too this anonymous manager of a metallurgical firm. “I always go vote with my entire family. It’s like a holiday. [Voting] is everyone’s social duty.” Yes, the ritual of voting must be important. Even metro-sexual oligarch Roman Abramovich plans on traveling to his Siberian fiefdom of Chukota to cast his vote.
If voter turnout does surprise Russia watchers and ends up low, there is always Plan B. The lack of physical appearance will certainly be supplemented with a flood of absentee ballots. Absentee ballots allow one person to cast several votes in several different polling stations. Police in Komi have already confiscated 60 absentee ballots purchased on Kirov region. Defiant, the Communists have vowed to not stand for the counting of “dead souls.” But in reality, what are they going to do about it?
All of this engenders questions about the political nature of Putin’s system. The question of whether it is authoritarian or democratic is too polarizing. Thinking about Russia as one or the other masks more than it reveals. Russia’s inner workings seems be defy both categories. Like most modern states, it’s a mixture. A political pendulum that sways between the two poles, but never mustering enough power to swing all the way to one or the other, even briefly. So what kind of system are we talking about here? Does it require us to invent a new analytical language to describe it? Is “Putinism”–if we can even call it this–and all of its political trappings–“managed democracy” and “sovereign democracy”–the ideological substructure of Russia’s 21st century modernization? Is it really a perversion of democracy, or is it simply the vanguard of its global exhaustion?
On this I guess we’ll have to way and see.Post Views: 515
The Russian electoral season is already unfolding like a stage performance. Putin, who we might refer to as the Director, announced the date for his troupe’s first performance: the State Duma elections scheduled for December 1. Kommersant Vlast’ has a thorough breakdown of its prediction of how the 450 Duma seats will be divided. The first thing to notice is the expectation that the number of parties represented in the Duma will drop by 10 percent. This is no doubt a result of two factors. The first is the increase of the electoral threshold to 7 percent. This along is expected to cut out 10 or 11 parties alone. The other fact is multiple. Namely, that Russian politics are a complex business, and the revamp of the electoral threshold matters most for parties already waining in influence.
To explain this complexity, Kommersant’s Dmitiry Kamyshev provides eight factors (with the number of seats at stake for each) that will determine the Duma’s breakdown: Name recognition (140 seats), political influence (100 seats), war chest (70 seats), leadership (45 seats), flamboyancy (35 seats), airtime (25 seats), past victories (20 seats), and fulfillment of promises (15 seats). No party dominates in all eight. For example, you can’t think of the KPRF without Gennady Zyuganov’s bald dome or the LDPR without picturing Vladimir Zhirinovsky flaying his arms about. This alone will get each party 16 and 14 seats respectively. United Russia on the other hand has no face, except for maybe Putin’s, and he’s one foot out the door. That said besides leadership and flamboyancy, United Russia tops in all other categories giving them a predicted 245 seats. Just Russia comes in second with 85 and the KPRF and LDPR follow with 75 and 45 seats respectively.
But as everyone knows the State Duma elections are merely a dress rehearsal for the real performance. Russian Presidential elections are scheduled for March 9, 2008. The stars have all but been officially selected, with First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov leading the cast. The question is which role each will get. Last year, Kommersant reports, there were rumors that Ivanov would become the head of Just Russia, while Medvedev would lead United Russia. That makes sense writes Kamyshev since “the liberal lawyer Medvedev heading the right-center United Russia and the pro-state, pro-police Ivanov heading the left-center Just Russia” seems to correspond with political ideology. But now that Ivanov is heading in the polls, Medvedev’s starring role appears in jeopardy. Now Ivanov looks slated to lead United Russia, a move that also makes sense since “if United Russia was going to associate itself with one of the possible successors, it could only be with the one who was going to win.” Given the choice between ideology and consistency in performance, the latter wins every time. Russia is moving toward a two party system for sure, but it will be a while before Just Russia is ready for the center stage.
The only question is whether all this over planning will scuttle the authenticity of the performance. After all, manufacturing an election is easy, but making it manufactured and reflect the will of the people is a skill that I think only Western democracies have mastered. Perhaps with Putin’s keen directorial eye, the right amount of stage management, and a stellar cast, this electoral season will be Russia’s democratic coming out party. I know I will have my ticket in hand. There is nothing I like more than a good political drama.Post Views: 331
The number of Russians requesting absentee ballots has increased fourfold in the last four years, reports Lenta.ru. The Interregional Union of Voters, a Russian outfit that seeks to protect voting rights, says that as of 24 November 99,711 people have requested absentee ballots, up from 26,026 in 2003. This should be good news for United Russia. Because as one unnamed teacher from St. Petersburg told the Associated Press, her school instructed the staff to get absentee ballots and go and submit their ballots together. “They didn’t tell us necessarily to vote for United Russia, but you can read between the lines,” she said. The teacher’s story is apparently one of many accounts of employers instructing their employees when, where, and in some cases who to vote for. It seems like United Russia has learned the imaginative things one can do with absentee ballots. Especially if you consider whether they followed with earnest the critical role absentee ballots played in deciding the American Presidential Election in 2000. America has always wanted to be a teacher of democracy to Russia. Now it will get its chance.
That’s not the United Russia party line, however. Putin assures all Russians that Sunday’s elections will be “maximally transparent and open” without “organizational shortcomings and malfunctions.” So confident is the Party of Power that election commish Vladimir Churov dismissed complaints that regional governors are planning on stuff ballot boxes and other acts of electoral malfeasance. “Don’t believe everything that you read,” he said in English just in case we would miss it. And why worry oneself with electoral fraud when Churov is working diligently to bring the narod closer to the democratic process. Forget the slow motion of cable TV, the internet, and other domestic news outlets. The Russian voter has instant access to poll results just by dialing 5503 on their mobile and a SMS with the latest polling stats will appear! Virtual politics has now become the norm rather than the exception.
The election’s virtuality doesn’t mean that power has no punch. Today we learn that Garry Kasparov has “disappeared.” Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and chess king and Public Chamber member Anatoly Karpov were refused access to Kasparov. Police even refused Kasparov’s mother from delivering a package of pirozhki and water. In response, supporters (including SPS candidate Boris Nemtsov) quickly set up a 24-hour picket calling for his release. Shortly thereafter the picket became a smörgåsbord of the “opposition” and their detractors. Nashi commissar Sergei Kamyshev showed up with a few Nashi thugs to pester Nemtsov as he spoke. Then SPS leader Nikita Belykh made an appearance to show support to the detained chess champion. And let us not forget to mention how Yabloko Youth leader Ilya Yashin got harangued by individuals in the crowd demanding that he pay them the 450 rubles owed to them for coming to the Dissenter’s March. He denied the requests as he stood alone with sign reading “Free Kasparov” Police demanded a permit for his picket of one. When he didn’t produce one, they dragged him on to an awaiting bus. If I were the police, I don’t think I could release Kasparov fast enough. They must have come to this conclusion since they plan to release him as planned and drive him straight home to avoid any further fiascoes.
Still the “opposition” presses on, albeit feebly. SPS is now complaining that the Kremlin has broken its promise to give SPS seats if they refrained from criticizing Putin. “At first, Kremlin spin doctors said the party would be allowed into the Duma if it refrained from criticism,” an unnamed SPS deputy told the Moscow Times. “But then they changed their minds and decided not to keep their promise. The party is angry, and now the only chance it has to get into the parliament is to gather the protest vote.” The Communists and Yabloko both claim to have made similar deals with the Kremlin. What!? And now were are expected to feel sorry for them? If anything their whining about broken political promises should be a signal to their supporters that they are nothing but slimy political opportunists. All’s fair in love, war, and politics, boys. What a bunch of losers.
The NGO Golos is claiming that it’s been forced them to shut down their activities due to a politically motivated criminal investigation in Samara. What is the motive for police snooping in their office? That’s right. You guessed it. Installing unlicensed software on their computers! “The goal of the authorities is to conduct the elections so quietly that you can’t hear a mosquito,” Golos head Lyudmila Kuzmina told the Moscow Times. “We remain the only troublesome mosquito buzzing in the silence.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Kuzmina’s claims “don’t correspond with reality.” Yeah, right.
But the big, big question is what Putin will say in his recorded address tonight. Will he resign? That’s what some think. Resignation would allow Putin to unitize a loophole in the law to run for President in March. The loophole, explains RFE/RL, is found in Article 3, Section 5 of the election law. It states that “a citizen who holds the office of president of the Russian Federation for a second consecutive term on the day of the official publication of the date of the election cannot be elected president.” If Putin resigns before the date of the Presidential election is published in Rossiiskaya gazeta, he can technically and legally run for office again. Oh, damn! It was published today. So much for that theory.
So what is Putin expected to say? United Russia denies that he will either resign or announce that he will join the party. If insiders are telling the truth, the speech looks to be nothing more than a campaign commercial for United Russia. Putin simply plans on explaining why he supports them. United Russia has paid for its airing at noon on Channel One, but will sure reap the benefits when its played and replayed on the news. The cost of a prime-time ad on the station costs about 2.5 million rubles ($103,000). The costs of a midday broadcast wasn’t disclosed. Whatever the price, its certain loop on the news will ensure that United Russia will get more bang for its buck.
In the meantime, here’s what Putin has to say to the world:
“I would like to note straight away that our political course is clearly defined and solid. We are following a path of democratic development. And the priority here remains to ensure and exercise human rights and freedoms, to encourage of the potential of each individual.”
Boy, that really sounds nice.Post Views: 405