People Power: Russia’s complicated and controversial affair with democracy

Updated: Sep 25, 2019 4:00 PM

Democracy in Russia has always been a very complicated and controversial affair, given that the country does not have a long history of democratic tradition and institutions.

Vladimir Putin is seen by most Russians as an able administrator, a man of clear vision and action, and most Russians are his followers.

By Lavlin Thadani

The recently concluded local elections in Russia were truly a spectacular show in term of its grandeur, organisation and dignity. On September 8, voters thronged polling stations to elect governors for 16 regions, legislatures in 13 regions, representatives in four by-elections to the state Duma and several city/municipal level elections including in Moscow.

The elections appeared to be transparent. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia managed retain majority in the Moscow municipal legislature, it lost some ground to opposition parties which resorted to strategic voting. The poll process was keenly watched because of a series of protests in Russian capital against Putin’s refusal to allow candidates backed by opposition leader Alexei Navalny to contest elections.

Democracy in Russia has always been a very complicated and controversial affair, given that the country does not have a long history of democratic tradition and institutions.

That said, Russia under Putin is far from a totalitarian state as citizens have hit the streets in regularity in protest against government policies and the dilution of democracy. Such open criticism of the government was unthinkable during the Soviet days. Anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, a staunch critic of Putin, had called for strategic voting by opposition parties. Candidates aligned with Putin’s United Russia won 26 out of the 45 seats in the Moscow city council, the Communist Party 13 seats and Just Russia and Yabloko 3 seats each. While this was only a city level election, Moscow is seen as a trend-setter in voting patterns across Russia, the results may indicate the times to come.

Russians are patriotic by nature and secretly claim to be invincible, citing how they defeated Nepolean in 1812 and Hitler in World War II. After the fall of Communism, Russians were a disgruntled lot. Most Russians admire Vladimir Putin, who, they consider, as the man who rebuilt the father land brick by brick. They feel that the West is worried about the growing might of the Russian Federation, and the sanctions imposed on their country were attempts to sabotage its growing influence.

Putin is seen by most Russians as an able administrator, a man of clear vision and action, and most Russians are his followers. He is liked for having restored the Russain pride by stopping the West from entering Russia’s boundaries through Ukraine. The perception that the West has always been jealous of Russian power and seeks to undermine Russia runs very deep among most Russians.

The writer was in Moscow to attend an international conference from the September 6 to 8. Participants of the conference included Ms. Ella A Pamfilova, chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, and Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin. Indian delegates talked about our electoral system with a sense of pride. Delegates from Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mexico, Philippenes, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Venezuela took part in the conference.

Russia has been an all-weather friend of India’s. The roots of Indo-Russian friendship run deep. This meaningful relationship have bloomed over years and will continue to blossom.

(The author is a Ph D in Russian literature from the Moscow State University. She specialises on India’s cultural diplomacy in Russia.)

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