The Russian presidential elections are just one year away and unlike any other election in a ‘democracy’, we know who the winner is going to be: Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999 when he was appointed Prime Minister of the Russian federation by the then President Boris Yeltsin. The following year he was appointed the President of Russia.
An ex-KGB (former Russian secret service, now dismantled) officer, Putin has thrice served as the President of Russia and once as the Prime Minister. To put this into perspective, Putin has not been out of power since 1999. India has had 9 Prime ministers since then, the US has had 4 presidents and Pakistan has been in and out of dictatorship twice.
Russian political system is designed to give the President executive powers like the President is given
in the US while giving the Prime Minister Legislative superiority like the post of Prime Minister given in India.
As Mr. Putin’s second term came to a close in 2008, he became ineligible to run for the president’s post for the third consecutive time. He chose to propel his close affiliate Dmitry Medvedev to the position of the President. Mr. Medvedev returned the favor by appointing Mr. Putin the Prime Minister of Russia, by presidential decree.
Current election at a glance:
Vladimir Putin has not officially announced his participation in the elections but is eligible to do so. The towering stature of Mr. Putin is reason enough for him to not relinquish power without competing for it. The communist party has put forward Maxim Suraikin as their candidate, while the Liberal Democrats have projected the speaker of the state Duma, Vladimir Zhivinovsky as their candidate. An independent candidate Alexei Navalny is gaining popularity as a political activist in Russia and has been a staunch opposition to the current Russian government.
In every election contested by Vladimir Putin, the communist candidates have been able to finish second. The usual figures are about 65% votes in favor of Mr. Putin and the rest 35% are shared by two other candidates.
The areas where Mr. Putin does not have a strong following are the only areas where other candidates contest elections from. This gives Mr. Putin a ‘fair’ election without having to worry about facing any competition.
Mr. Putin has done away with every European regulatory body which had any influence over Russia’s election process.
“Putin has made russia’s election a joke”
-Mikhail Gorbachev, Ex-pm USSR
In February 2008 the European Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights announced that it would not send observers to monitor the presidential election on 2 March, citing what it called “severe restrictions” imposed on its work by the Russian government. “We made every effort in good faith to deploy our mission, even under the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities”, said Christian Strohal, the organization’s director. “The Russian Federation has created limitations that are not conducive to undertaking election observation”
So far more than two dozen journalists have been found dead in ‘mysterious circumstances’. It just so happens that these journalists were working on some or the other reports of exposing corrupt practices of the Russian Government.
So, how does Putin ensure such popularity?
Two of three biggest media outlets in the state are owned by the government of Russia and the third is owned by a close affiliate of the Kremlin. Channel 1 and Russia one are two biggest broadcasters in Russia and are state owned. NTV is the third and is owned by Gazprom, which is a holding company owned by the state.
The Media outlets function in a way to protect the Kremlin and keep the potentially damaging news about Mr. Putin and his government away from the people.
The Media has effectively been used to create a very particular image of Putin, which is a strong and efficient leader with a soft heart. On one hand, his shirtless pictures of hunting tigers are making rounds on social media, on the other hand, another picture becomes popular where he is seen interacting with kids.
Putin leads Russia with an authoritarian attitude. He exercises immense power over the state Duma and has over the past 20 years amended the constitution to give more power to himself than the elected representatives of the Duma.
Putin’s Russia operates on relationships. Favours are traded like they are in a Mafia family. The protestors are silenced and opposing politicians killed overnight. The top government officials have been known to have contact with Mafia in the country. The state institutions like Police and investigative agencies are controlled solitarily by Mr. Putin.
What does it mean for the world?
In the world where democracy has become synonymous with civil rights, Mr. Putin’s Russia is an anomaly. On paper, it is a democratically elected Republic but in practice, it has become a stagnant authoritarian government. Mr. Putin has shaped Russia’s foreign policies according to his own world views, which cis clearly visible in his treatment of Germany. When a country thinks it is dealing with Russia, it is actually dealing with one man, Mr. Putin. His style of governance and his constant interference in the election process in Russia solidifies the fact that he is going to be around for a while.
Come April 2018, the world will observe another great election like the US Presidential election in 2016 or the Indian election in 2014. But this election will not be a celebration of a democratic process but an example of an autocracy of a populist leader.
Vladimir Putin will again be the President of the Russian Republic. It does not affect any of us directly but it is will again be an assault on the spirit of Democracy.