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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can This Be The Road to Democracy?

Despite innumerable official assurances that Russia is striving to become a democracy, it all too often seems that the country is running full speed in exactly the opposite direction. This impression was reinforced this week by a series of government actions designed to deny the Russian people the ability to express their will and participate actively in government.

Most vividly, the Central Elections Commission on Wednesday declared invalid more than 600,000 signatures of the 2.5 million gathered by environmentalists to force a referendum on importing spent nuclear fuel. This was particularly shocking because when the signatures were checked by the local election commission in St. Petersburg, where many of them were gathered, less than 1 percent were rejected.

The result: In all likelihood, the referendum will not be held, and the Nuclear Power Ministry will be able to force through this patently unpopular measure.

At the same time, the State Duma gave preliminary approval to a Kremlin-backed measure that would enable many regional governors to seek a third term in office. The bill, which uses a technicality to slip around a 1999 law explicitly limiting governors to two terms, is intended to enable a number of pro-Kremlin governors, particularly Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev, to hang on to their posts and perks for another five years.

While protecting its friends, the Kremlin is also sparing no effort to eliminate its enemies. In October, Kursk Governor Alexander Rutskoi was struck from the ballot on the eve of the election there. On Thursday, the newspaper Kommersant reported that Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, president of the republic of Marii-El, will be the next victim. While it is hard to be sympathetic to either Rutskoi or Kislitsyn — both administrations have featured equal measures of incompetence and corruption — we are alarmed at the Kremlin’s arrogant assumption of the right to pick and choose who can run for governor.

Still more disturbing than these case-by-case violations of democratic principles are the changes that the CEC proposed this week to the laws governing political parties. If the proposals are adopted, only organizations with more than 10,000 total members and at least 100 members in at least one-half of Russia’s 89 federal regions would qualify to put forward candidates. As things now stand, only the Communist Party and the pro-Kremlin Unity party would be likely to qualify. The proposals would certainly spell the end of any pretense of grassroots democratic participation.

In the headlong drive to establish central control, the Russian people are being pushed out of the political process. Seems like a strange way to build a democracy.