MOSCOW -- Yesterday's Russian presidential
election was another triumph
Vladimir Putin's brand of "managed democracy." The
campaign and election
followed the pattern of the parliamentary vote
three months ago, which the
OSCE characterized as "free, but unfair."
That's a rather mild description of an election
where there was no
independent media, no independent judiciary and no
independent sources for
the financing of political parties. Direct vote
rigging was not considered
significant by many observers. Some estimated that
it accounted for not
more than 2% or 3% of the votes. But it was enough
to deprive the liberal
party Yabloko (headed by Grigory Yavlinsky), of
its seats in the
by lowering its total below the 5% threshold.
needed to qualify for
representation in the Duma.
The same techniques were deployed effectively in
the presidential campaign
to similarly devastating effect. Under these
politicians including Mr. Yavlinsky or Communist
leader Gennady Zyuganov
decided not to run. The party headed by maverick
Zirinovsky put forward his bodyguard as a
presidential contender. The
campaign swiftly became a farce.
To restore some respectability to the electoral
induced several second-rate politicians to enter
the contest. They
that a real problem could result from a low voter
electoral law specifies that if voter turnout
falls below 50% of qualified
voters, the election is to be declared invalid.
The turnout for the Duma
elections in December was officially tabulated at
54%. Some independent
observers estimated it to have been considerably
Voter turnout for presidential elections
historically has been higher than
parliamentary ones. This was the case during the
elections of 1996 and 2000 and again last night.
However voter apathy has
become increasingly evident and federal and local
attempting to mobilize massive administrative and
resources to ensure a sufficient turnout. Voters
are lured to polling
stations by promises of free rock-concert tickets.
Persons with health
problems may not be taken to hospitals without
first proving that they
So Mr. Putin gets four more years of power that
will be almost unlimited
legislature, judiciary or tradition. An obedient
parliament may even
the Russian constitution to allow Mr. Putin to
rule as long as he wishes.
But what comes next?
President Putin is not giving speeches or
participating in debates as an
advocate of ideas. He is acting in the tradition
of the Russian czars, who
didn't explain their plans and objectives to their
subjects. The recent
appointment of a nonentity as prime minister also
obscures his objectives.
But if he were indeed obliged to reveal his
ambitions he could formulate
them in one key word -- modernization.
Everything in Mr. Putin's record suggests he
sincerely believes that
must make a great leap forward to catch up with
leading Western powers.
he is deeply convinced that this task should be
realized through the model
of authoritarian modernization. This is a model of
with a very strong role for the state.
It is capitalism run by police and pencil-pushers
with the father of the
nation in charge. It's the replacement of
Yeltsin-era oligarchs with new
"patriotic" ex-security service operatives, and
more broadly with that
collective oligarchy -- the bureaucracy -- with
its armed detachments, the
so-called power agencies. Rather than correct the
defects of Russian
capitalism -- the merger and criminalization of
money and power and
institutionalized corruption -- it only
This kind of model is incapable of ensuring stable
growth. It will not
allow Russia to overcome its terrible social
stratification or to achieve
the breakthrough needed before a postindustrial
society can emerge here.
dooms Russia to economic degradation,
marginalization and ultimately to
collapse. It cannot drag on for decades like the
Stalin or Brezhnev
This model has been implemented with limited
success in some South Asia
Latin American states, but Russia is different.
those states was a sort of transition from an
agrarian economy to an
industrial one; we face a transition from the
Soviet Union's industrial
economy to a post-industrial one. This model
cannot achieve that.
When the regime controls everything, it loses
control of the situation
because it stops getting feedback from the public.
It becomes blind and
deaf, and accordingly, helpless. While oil prices
remain high, Russia may
enjoy the illusion of stability. As soon as Iraq's
oil reaches the world
market, the time of "crazy oil dollars" will be
over. By 2005, I suspect
will see the collapse of the economic stability myth.
Another potential threat to the regime's stability
are its own
obsessions. The Russian political class is now
seized with the idea of "a
domination on the post-Soviet space," and the
restoration of a "liberal
empire." Russian politicians fail to understand
that their neo-imperial
impulses can elicit nothing but rejection in the
former Soviet republics.
new "assertive" policy on the post-Soviet space
will bring the Putin
only new foreign policy disappointments and
Sure, 2004 will become known as the Year of
Putinism. But in a not very
distant future the regime will face serious
structural and existential
problems for which it has no answer.
State Duma elections 2003
Presidential elections 2004