The State of Democracy in Russia

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The most recent presidential and parliamentary elections in Russia have sparked heated debate concerning the future of Russian democracy. Many social scientists and Russian politician's say that hopes for a true Russian democratic system have been crushed. Few have an optimistic outlook for democratic prosperity in Russia. These concerns can be substantiated through analysis of many articles on the subject of Russian Democracy. In a recent article entitled, What the Polls Tell Us, Yuri A. Levada (2004) describes Russia as a "Managed Democracy," in which President Vladimir Putin controls the government and has illegitimately swayed the opinion of the Russian people. Levada (2004) argues that the overwhelming power of the United Party has all but completely destroyed the chances of a true democracy in Russia. Authors Michael McFaul and Nikolai Petrov (2004) explain in their article, What the Elections Tell Us, that although the electoral system in Russia is stable and institutionalized, recent elections have had little meaning and therefore do not demonstrate a legitimate democracy. In yet another article entitled, Force, Money, and Pluralism, written by Stephen Sestanovich (2004), the author does not focus on the failings of the Russian democracy, but rather, he concentrates on how Russian businesses and corporate institutions can affect the ultimate outcome of the post-soviet democratization process.

The aforementioned articles present strong arguments that make it difficult to believe that there is much hope for a sustained democracy in Russia. However, it may be possible, through a system of "free and fair elections," for power to be obtained by a party that will embrace democracy and work to properly transform the Russian system of government. However, in the short term the outlook for Russia's democratic future seems bleak.

Levada (2004), McFaul, Petrov (2004) and Sestanovich (2004) have similar viewpoints on the future of democracy in Russia. Levada (2004) describes the Russian form of government as lacking a pluralistic system, so that various branches of the current government are controlled by whoever sits atop a hierarchical pyramid of bureaucracy. President Vladimir Putin now sits at the top of this pyramid, controlling every facet of the Russian government, thus degrading the democratic system. McFaul and Petrov (2004) explain that although the recent elections in Russia demonstrate a thoroughly institutionalized system, the incumbent President, Vladimir Putin, had an unfair advantage over his opponents. By way of his increased control of the Russian government and media, President Putin and his political party, United Russia, were able to overwhelmingly defeat any opposition. Sestanovich (2004) explains that President Putin created a centralized state bureaucracy in an effort to improve the development and growth of the Russian economy and government. However, it is felt that Putin can no longer afford to rely on this singular power base and must now restore pluralism to the government or face backlash from economic leaders.

Levada's (2004) argument as described above, is similar to many who study Russian Democracy. However, he uses Russian public opinion polls to prove many of his theories, but his analysis of the polls may be skewed and somewhat incorrect. He justifies his belief that Putin's control of the government is detrimental by explaining that Russian citizens have been purposefully misinformed by the government. Thus, Lavada (2004) believes that the Russian people support Putin without fully understanding the consequences. However, are the Russian people wrong in supporting Putin? Are they truly misinformed? Putin has brought economic prosperity to Russia and has brought about relative stability there. There may not be enough clear evidence to support the assertion that Russian citizens are clearly misinformed....
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