Russia's Authoritarian Elections

Russia's Authoritarian Elections

Russia's Authoritarian Elections

Russia's Authoritarian Elections

Synopsis

Elections are the central mechanism by which citizens can seek to hold their government to account. This collection shows the ways in which that mechanism can be manipulated from above such it becomes more of an extension of central authority than a means by which the public at large can impose their own priorities.

Excerpt

Elections have been the central institution of representative government since at least the ancient Greeks. The story of the extension of the franchise to (eventually) all adult citizens, and the establishment of the principle that the only decisions that could bind them were ones that had been taken by a parliament they elected, is essentially the story of modern democracy. Elections have a much shorter history in Russia; but the changes that followed the October manifesto of 1905 led to four successive elections to a newly established State Duma, and in November 1917, after the Bolsheviks had taken power, there were elections to a Constituent Assembly that was intended to define the nature of a post-tsarist future. Elections continued under Soviet rule, although (from an early stage) they were not competitive, and the principle was at least formally confirmed that the only body that could take decisions that were binding on all citizens was a parliament they had themselves elected. It was the people to whom ‘all power belonged’, explained the 1977 Constitution, and they could exercise that power either directly, through a referendum, or indirectly, by electing representatives to the soviets of people’s deputies that had the exclusive authority to legislate.

The same principles continued into the post-communist years, although (at least apparently) they had for the first time become genuinely meaningful. The only source of legitimate authority in the new federation was its ‘multinational people’, as in Soviet times, and the ultimate expression of their collective will was the ‘referendum and free elections’ (articles 3 and 4 of the Russian Constitution (Konstitutsiya 1993)). The new state, however, unlike its predecessor, was committed to ‘political diversity’ and ‘multiparty politics’ (article 13:3), and citizens had the right to establish associations of whatever kind in order to advance their various preferences (article 30:1). At the national level the Federal Assembly, with its two chambers, was the ‘representative and legislative organ of the Russian Federation’ (article 94); both were directly elected in 1993, when the new constitution was adopted, and since then the lower house, the State Duma, has continued to be elected at the regular intervals that are specified in

The support of the UK Economic and Social Council under grants RES-000-22-2532 and RES-062
23-1378 is gratefully acknowledged, as is the support made available by the Leverhulme Foundation
through its Major Research Fellowship F/00 179/AR. The Carnegie Trust of the Universities of
Scotland made possible two fieldwork visits to Moscow in December 2007 and March 2008. Research
assistance was provided by Tat’yana Biletskaya and Valentina Feklyunina.

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