University of California, Los Angeles

Putin: “Managing” Democracy by Isabelle McGrew @ University of California Los Angeles

A managed democracy, as the Putinists would practice it, is not a true democracy. As the demonstrations have continued, it is clear that Russians themselves agree that this political system is not an acceptable approach to democracy – and a true democracy is what Russia nominally is and aspires to be.

While Russia does have a two term limit in place, Putin has unfailingly continued to manipulate its political framework to work in his favor. Article 81, Section 3 of the Russian constitution clearly states that: “One person may not hold the position of Russian president for more than two terms in a row.” He won the election in 1999 and stayed in power for two full terms. Rather than then stepping down in 2008, he led a close friend of his, Dmitry Medvedev, to take his position as president. Then he “shockingly” was chosen by Medvedev, only two short hours after he was elected, to be the Prime Minister. Four years later, Putin took back his reign and was elected for his third term in 2011. Thus, here we are today, 2018, approaching the new election where Putin will accept his fourth term.

Russia’s checks and balances? Weak. While the prime minister and duma are assigned to keep balance, this system is not always enforced correctly. The Duma is elected by the people, who are unfortunately very uniformed and biased, and the Prime Minister is elected by the leader. Thus, this scheme is how Putin and Medvedev were able to switch back and forth between President and Prime minister, essentially rigging the system to maintain power. Along with this weak legislature, the constitution of Russia seems to be just as meaningless and unhelpful. Medvedev effortlessly introduced a bill during his presidency to redraft the Russian constitution, as if it couldn’t enable presidential power any more than it already did. This corrupt way of democracy advocates that it is an example of agency theory, meaning it is the fault of the leader.

The presidential election’s flaws had less to do with procedural irregularities on polling day – though those were reported too – than with a system of unfairness leading up to the predictable result. Restrictive electoral regulations prevented genuine competition; official and coerced media fanned the cult of personality around Mr. Putin and denied his opponents equal time. The people of Russia hear, see, and breathe Putin propaganda. In his second election, which seemed unfair by international observers, there was a suspiciously high turnout and heavily based media coverage. When individuals are brainwashed from radio, television, newspapers, and any other form of press, it becomes a norm to not question the government.

In the public eye, all Russians support their dear president Putin. The concept of freedom of press is foreign to these citizens, they are told to trust Putin and not question his ideals. As a result, any negatives about him will never be published under any circumstance. In the United States, on the other hand, there is not a day that goes by without a new article that criticizes president Donald Trump. This dichotomy, in a sense, makes it open for debate that this leadership is not only an example of agency theory, but also structure theory. The people should be more curious and seek change. Although as time passes on, the true feelings of the Russian people has begun to show through their votes. Yes, Putin did win his third term as president, but with just under 65% of the vote. Critics even question the results amid complaints of voter fraud. The League of Voters, for instance, argued that “the massive irregularities, use of administrative resources, and abuse of law discredited the institutions of the Russian presidency, the Russian electoral system, and the entire Russian state”

Russia’s annexation of Crimea is another example of “managed democracy” at play. In 2014 Crimea, Ukrainian territory since 1954, was annexed by Russia based on an outdated theory of secession and principles of self-determination. At first, Russia’s approach to taking Crimea back sounded democratic: the best way to decide whether Crimea should remain part of Ukraine or secede and become part of Russia is by holding a referendum and letting the people of Crimea decide. However, some major elements are at play here, such as the presence of fierce Russian troops to intimidate voters, and the act of bussing large numbers of native Russians to influence the numbers. How about the biggest problem: the referendum is inconsistent with the Ukrainian constitution, which requires all Ukrainians to vote on Crimea’s secession – not just those living in Crimea. The pressing question is, who owns the territory of Crimea? The answer is unambiguous: Ukraine does. Therefore, if people of Crimea want to be Russian Citizens, they should move to Russia. It’s also a matter of international law: territory cannot be annexed simply because the people who happen to be living there today want to secede. By voting for the annexation to Russian, these want-to-be Russians actually took away Ukraine’s territory and gave it to Russia, which was, of course, Russia’s precise objective.  

Power to the people! Democracy was created for the people, so that they are involved and honest and create a society that they enjoy. Russia quite frankly does the opposite, so how is this still a democracy? Every election had a clear winner with an absolute majority. But with such advantages, anything but a landslide would have been unthinkable. Thus, the apparatus of the state, with its legion of salaried supporters, was placed at his disposal. Let’s take a look at current presidential elections 2018. Putin’s serious opponent, Alexei Navalny, has been conveniently disqualified, however, former playboy model and socialite Ksenia Sobchak is still in the race, making Putin a more appealing candidate to the voters. So the real question is… when will this end? How many more times will Putin cycle between Prime Minister and President?


The Constitutionality of Vladimir Putin’s Third Term

1 Comment


    March 15, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    This is a very interesting piece on Russian democracy. I loved how your title summed up the situation perfectly as it does appear that President Putin and his party does manage many of the democratic institutions in their country. The key points to me that you pointed out were the state run press and the lack of pluralism in their society. For me, these are two key issues when dealing with how President Putin has become so popular. An independent press creates situations where you can have differing opinions on different political leaders like in the United States where you can find Pro and Anti-Trump news articles. But, if our main form of press was heavily state controlled, only Pro-Trump news would be reported and this would definitely decrease the amount of pluralism in the United States. That is one of the key players in Russian politics right because there is not much pluralism and hence not many checks on Putin’s power and this can be stemmed in part from the lack of pluralism in the state media.

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