Pressing for Change: Russia's 2012 Presidential Election

Article excerpt

On September 24, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev announced that he would step aside for his mentor and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reclaim the presidency in 2012. Since he first took over the presidency in 2000 from Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin has dominated Russian politics. With exceptional political finesse, Putin has systematically marginalized all opposition and built up the powerful United Russia Party. As it stands now, Russia can hardly be considered democratic. United Russia holds 315 of the 450 seats in the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, making Russia effectively a one-party state. Corruption abounds because government officials are not held accountable for their actions as long as they maintain their standing with United Russia. Furthermore, the Kremlin exercises complete control over state television by threatening to revoke broadcast licenses for uncooperative networks, while dissenters face violent suppression by the government. In spite of all of these free speech violations, Putin remains enormously popular, with approval ratings hovering around 80 percent. From a Machiavellian perspective, Putin's leadership has been phenomenal. During his first two terms as president, Russia experienced a 72 percent increase in GDP, an eightfold increase in average monthly salary, and a restoration of government stability. However, the political corruption, human rights violations, and propaganda that Putin has used to strengthen his regime threaten to undermine the foundation of Russian democracy.

Many had hoped to see Medvedev compete against Putin in the upcoming elections on a liberal modernization platform. If these two titans of the Kremlin were to run against each other, the contest would reinvigorate Russian democracy. A functional democracy requires elections that are competitive enough to make elected officials accountable to voters. With Medvedev out of the race, Russians can expect a landslide victory for Putin and several more years of his increasingly authoritarian rule. In February 2011, Mikhail Gorbachev broadly criticized Russia's electoral system, particularly the undemocratic way in which Putin and Aledvedev privately decided who would stand tor the presidency in 2012. Additionally, Medvedev's recent announcement that he will step aside for Putin lends credence to the commonly held belief that Medvedev has been a mere puppet for Putin throughout his presidency. Putin has also manipulated the electoral system by changing the Russian constitution's provision for direct election of provincial governors to a presidential appointment system. This new model allows Putin to reward loyal supporters and further inhibits government accountability to the electorate.

A former KGB officer, Putin is no stranger to the use of violence as a means to achieve political objectives. …