Russia's Sinking Electoral Process


Article / I write about what happens when elections lose meaning.



In March 2012 Russian citizens will be voting for their future president. For three-and-a-half years—from the time Vladimir Putin finished his second presidential term, appointed Dmitri Medvedev as his replacement, and became Russia’s prime minister, to the time (last September) when Medvedev announced that Mr. Putin would be on the United Russia party’s presidential ticket for the 2012 elections and Medvedev himself would be on the ticket as prime minister—the world had wondered what would happen after Medvedev’s first term expired.


There was never any pretense that there would be any real inter-party competition for the 2012 presidential seat—after all, United Russia, holds 315 of the 450 seats in the Russian Duma, and has monopolized Russian politics since it was founded by Mr. Putin in December 2001—but there was some anticipation about who was going to run. The Kremlin kept the public guessing as to whether United Russia would put the president or the prime minister on the presidential ticket for the impending presidential elections, and there was even speculation that the “tandem” would split and the two men would run against each another, finally bringing pluralism to Russian politics.


In the months preceding September, the situation in Russia was best captured by a political joke that circulated Moscow: “The Kremlin is divided into two camps, the Putin camp and the Medvedev camp. The question is which camp Medvedev belongs to.” At the time, Medvedev was making some seemingly independent moves—his “fight against corruption,” for example, included some measures that appeared to contradict Mr. Putin’s wishes, such as the firing of Moscow’s longtime Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and  the removal of government ministers from corporate boards. And last April the Economist argued that Mr. Putin’s return to the Kremlin was “looking less certain.” There was a sense of intrigue about what was going to happen next.


The intrigue dissolved in late September. While much of the world was preoccupied with the financial crisis, Medvedev made the announcement that he would not be running for president, and calmly admitted that this matter of Russia’s future had been settled since Mr. Putin first backed him for the presidency in 2007. And so, just like that, the joke was over—it was confirmed that Medvedev belongs to the Putin camp. The news flooded the international headlines for about a week, and then the affair dissipated, and the global community went on with its daily business. (Although Mr. Putin did quickly reappear in the headlines when his press secretary Dmitri Peskov admitted that the diving exploit that led the prime minister to discover a 6th century ceramic jug was actually staged).


Read the article in Construction.