Putin's Contribution to Demcracy

— Suzi Weissman and Hillel Ticktin

BEHIND VLADIMIR PUTIN'S election are the accoutrements of Russia's 21st century democracy -- a controlled media which smears opponents and lies about the war in Chechnya, journalists who publish their price to regurgitate government propaganda (the going rate is $4000 for a laudatory article), unbridled patriotism and just in case none of this works, filling the voter roster with dead souls.

While Putin was elected with 52% of those voting, a closer look reveals obvious problems. In war-torn Chechnya, despite the carnage, rape and looting by the Russian army, it appears that Putin got more votes than he did in Moscow: 50.6% of the votes with a 79.4% turnout!

In closely related and neighboring Ingushetia, where hundreds of thousands of Chechen war refugees have found shelter, Putin got more than 80% of the vote. Yet registered voters in refugee camps in Chechnya and Ingushetia complained no ballot boxes were provided.

The standard Western explanation of the vote is that Russians want a strong leader who will ensure order and stability to allow for progress in raising the standard of living. In this view Russians are seen as a people who love authority and order. Indeed, the population of Russia is little different from that of the United States or Latin America in wanting a government that will halt the continuing decline in the standard of living and improve the general conditions of life.

Had the elections been 100% free and fair, the results would not be far different. That is because the entire elite supported Putin, and the "loyal" opposition, represented by the Communist Zyuganov, did not represent an alternative.

Putin represents a return to the strong intrusive state, but with a commitment to the free market, which in practice means allowing the notorious "oligarchs" to protect their ill-gotten gains. Whatever his nationalist rhetoric and his use of economic protective devices like devaluation, he is committed to the market and will suffer from its continued failure.

ATC 86, May-June 2000

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