Wednesday, 27 February 2008
If the election does not matter why does Medvedev need to trick voters?
As Russia goes to the polls on Sunday, conflicting messages are issuing from pro western opposition within the country. On one hand we are told that the elections are a charade and that the new president will not be receiving a legitimate mandate and on the other we are told that Russians should not put store in Medvedev’s liberal credentials. He is trying to trick those who favour liberal democracy into backing him.
There is a fundamental inconsistency between these lines of argument. If Medvedev needs to win the backing of the Russian electorate, by persuading them that his policies are one thing or the other, if he feels a compulsion to present his beliefs in the language of democracy and rationalise them by reference to concepts such as freedom and the rule of law, then Russia is not in the clutches of autocracy or dictatorship.
Whilst elections may not be free and fair and whilst pluralism may be more an illusion than a reality, the elections do have an importance in Russia and the electorate are still required to provide a mandate for the incoming president. Russia’s democracy may be imperfect, but when Estonian President Toomas Hendrik likens Russia to Weimar Germany and implies that a regime akin to Nazism is developing, he is not only being gratuitously offensive and unintentionally stirring a huge pot of irony, he is also wrong in asserting that there the Russian regime can be characterised as a dictatorship at all.
The facts remain that the Russian authorities are doing their utmost to encourage voter turnout, that Medvedev is attempting to win support and persuade voters to support him and that he requires a strong result to cement his credentials as President and provide a strong base to initiate reform.