An Election Can Be Boring and Democratic
- By Vladimir Frolov
- Mar. 03 2008 00:00
But does this necessarily make the predetermined result undemocratic and Medvedev's victory less legitimate? The answer, in my view, is no.
Critics claim that the people's choice has been restricted and manipulated by the wily Kremlin and thus cannot reflect the popular will.
The critics miss the point. Although the choice indeed appears to be limited and the election not really contested, the lack of competition is caused mostly by a lack of credible alternatives to Putin's course rather than by the Kremlin's manipulation. Being a boring and totally predictable affair does not make the election undemocratic.
In early 2007, some friends in the West advised the Kremlin to arrange for two successors to Putin -- a liberal Medvedev and a hawkish First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov -- to run against each other. In my view, the Kremlin was right to ignore this advice. Such a scenario would have split the ruling elite and the nation and allowed for irresponsible populists or nationalists to steal the show.
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Andrei Bogdanov's race was obviously a joke. However, as a Russian citizen, he is entitled to run for president if he fulfills the registration requirements, which he did.
Critics claim that the Kremlin torpedoed the presidential bid of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. This is simply not true. If he had collected the necessary 2 million signatures, he would have been registered as a candidate and he would have received no more than 2 percent of the vote. But Kasyanov's campaign failed miserably, and he did not meet the signature requirement. In fact, many of the signatures that Kasyanov submitted to the Central Elections Commission were names of well-known characters from classic Russian literature.
Many argued that the election requirement of 2 million signatures was too onerous and blocked opposition candidates from running. This claim is misleading. To collect 2 million genuine signatures, one needs to have about 10,000 activists throughout Russia. The rest is just a matter of solid legwork and competent campaign management. Bogdanov's campaign proved that this was far from an insurmountable obstacle.
Garry Kasparov's claim that he had been denied premises for his nominating committee is simply laughable. Even with all the political muscle that the Kremlin has, it does not possess Godlike powers to be able to lock every public building in the country spanning 11 time zones.
Much has been made of the decision of the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights not to send its election monitors to Russia on the grounds that the authorities unduly restricted their freedom of action in the country and shortened the observation period. The truth is that they were invited on exactly the same terms that the government offered to all international election monitors. If the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe decided to decline the invitation, it was its own decision.
Another criticism is that the media coverage of the campaign was heavily skewed in favor of Medvedev while other candidates received much less airtime. They got all the free television airtime they were entitled under the election law. Medvedev was covered more in his capacity as a senior government official. Is this unfair? Yes, but not from a legal point of view. And, frankly, do we really want to hear everything that Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov have to say?
The problem with this presidential election is not procedural but substantive. Medvedev's rivals simply did not have any political platforms that could be viewed as plausible alternatives to Putin's course.
In the end, the people wanted "someone like Putin," and that is exactly what they are getting. It cannot be credibly argued that the vote for Medvedev does not reflect the popular will. It does.
Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.