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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 10:25 GMT
Were Russia's elections truly democratic?
The party backing President Putin is heading for a convincing victory in Russia's parliamentary elections.

With more than 98% of the votes counted, the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party leads with almost 37%.

Twenty-three parties fielded candidates in this election, and election officials are promised a free and fair vote.

However, the election comes shortly after the arrest of tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which some analysts have suggested may be his "punishment" for funding opposition parties.

How democratic is Russia now? How far will this election reflect the will of the people?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

I don't have a problem with the election results. Democratic or not, I'm happy with Russia the way it is now and with where it is going.
Yulia, Russia

Whose elections are truly democratic?
norman ravitch, USA

The truth of the negative things that are being said about the elections in Russia should not hide the fact that it is not the Russian democracy the quote-unquote West is worried about. It is rather their fear that the game might be up; gutting the Russian economy and running it as a globalized ghetto for their own benefit.
T F, Norway

Probably about as democratic as any western democratic election. In other words, you can vote for whoever you like provided that they don't actually change anything.
Simon Moore, EU

Money and lobby groups backing up a candidate has a great impact on the outcome of elections
Tom, Finland

Yes, there were definitely some problems with the elections in Russia. Those fractions in Russia who had most power and money did get their voice heard in the media. However, we all know that money and lobby groups backing up a candidate has a great impact on the outcome of elections in some Western countries. So, I don't think that the Russian election were less democratic than elections in some western countries after all.
Tom, Finland

I witnessed all what was going on for the past two months in Russia. I live there and I just want to tell you that people voted for the party which was the least annoying. We are tired of politicians who don't bother to change their party programme. I can't say that I, personally, enjoy Mr Putin's mode of thinking and behaviour but I'm not sure that there is anyone else capable of ruling our huge country for the time-being. It is important to understand that in 1918 our country chose the communist rule and supported them overwhelmingly. (We began to regret it after having done so).This is our choice and you need to respect it.
Lena, Russia

The scariest part of this whole thing is the potential impact on other post-Soviet countries
Aman, Kazakhstan
The scariest part of this whole thing is the potential impact on other post-Soviet countries. If before Russia served as a more or less an ok model for democracy for them, what is going to happen now? How will leaders of Turkmenistan, Belorussia and other others react? I am afraid they will see this as a green light to pursue more authoritarian policies.
Aman, Kazakhstan

What is there to say? Democracy in Russia has collapsed. The thing that we will have from now on cannot be named this way any longer. Nationalist parties gained a serious part of Parliament thus opening the way for resuming hate and offence towards the West.
S, Russia

I have great faith in the Russian people. The greed stampede which was a result of the push to privatisation clearly shows capitalism at its nemesis. Far too many Russians are worse off while a few display the worst of human behaviour. At last a society showing the world there is a better choice than the jungle capitalists or the control freak communists. The kind-heartedness of the Russians, which many remember in war time will prevail. They have stood up to both systems. Let them be an example to the rest of the world how it can be done.
Tess Williams, Australia

I don't see any future for my country
Natasha, Russian
From what I know, these elections were not democratic at all. Many people, especially in the regions, were forced by local governments to vote for United Russia party which has no political views apart from openly supporting President Putin. People were told that they would have problems at work if they don't vote for this party. I am Russian and I voted in London, at a Russian Embassy. Here it was fair. The winning parties in London were SPS and Yabloko, the only two democratic parties in Russia, which didn't even pass the 5% barrier and will not be represented in the new Duma. It's really sad, the only parties in the new Duma are pro-Putin's United Russia, two ultra-nationalist, almost fascist parties and communists. I don't see any future for my country.
Natasha, Russian in UK

Not only were United Russia's ads shoved down our throats from all the TV channels and newspapers, there was also constant information about alleged links between the communist party and the oligarchs in heavy rotation from every single media outlet. Russians, after centuries of being abused by one "strong leader" after another, they still want a strong leader, it's just beyond any comprehension.
Igor, Russia

I am a Moscow student. I didn't go to the elections, as I was well aware that my vote will not change anything. The administrative pressure undertaken by the United Russia party is very interesting and awful at the same time. For example, some students of my university were REQUIRED to go to the United Russia demonstration on a holiday. Those who didn't were severely punished.
Right-wing democratic parties couldn't make 5% and get into the Duma because they were simply not allowed to advertise on the two state channels. The prices set up were so high that Yabloko could afford only 2 minutes of broadcast time.
So now Russia has made a huge step forward towards a fully controllable "democracy"
Alexei, Russia

Democracy is an ideology, an ideal. What the Russians seem to want is not some tenuous ideals, but they want to see real progress and actions. Who cares of democracy when Putin is 'perceived' to have done so much for Russia? Wouldn't that be enough for the Russians to overlook or ignore this 'democracy'?
Tae, Cambridge UK

Russian democracy is in it infancy and will grow and evolve in the coming decades. Anyway, show me a fair US election and I have a bridge to sell you.
Bob Kosko, USA

Arrogant! That is how I perceive the detractors of the current Russian system. Given the former Soviet system, there has been an extraordinary amount of progress - but who is the arbiter. Has the liberal West ever considered that its idea of democracy may not be suitable for other nations and peoples. Equally, has it not taken a number of hundred years to reach our current administration; therefore, other nations may also be on an evolutionary ladder. Judgement should be by achievement, not by benchmarking against different standards.
Brian M, UK

Everyone is rather disgusted with politics in general
Andrew Bishop, USA/Russia
I think the election was actually rather fair, the coverage from the state run TV was not. The outcome I believe was actually representative of what the people want. Everyone is rather disgusted with politics in general and all they want is a strong leader to trust in. Many seem to have found this in Mr. Putin, and are willing to overlook the fact that he hasn't accomplished any of what he's promised to accomplish. Most people just look at the fact that things aren't as bad as they were in the 90's under Yeltsin, and most think that the credit for that is due to Putin.
Andrew Bishop, USA/Russia

How can they have democratic elections when the government took control of the television in Russia (and more than 90% of Russians get their news from it), after forcing the "bad guys" either in exile or after jailing them. One should be blind not to see the resemblance between the Soviet government and today's government - they share the same goal: big, strong government with a merciless president - there is a difference though: the communists were ready to kill and jail everybody and wanted to plan everything in the economy - Putin and his friends learned that lesson and they have found more ingenious methods to do so. So the goals are the same, but the means are different. What strikes me the most is that so few people in Russia see this.
Slava, Belarus/USA

Democratic or not, Russian politics are corrupt and unfair. What the country needs is a strong leader who will fight terrorism, restore services, and bring back the pride which we used to have. The rest of the world looks down upon Russians and considers us depressed and poor. Nationalism must be brought back to the country.
Yuri R, Russia

So the US has criticised the Russian elections? Under the current administration, this has to be the ultimate in the pot calling the kettle black. Does this mean they plan to count all the votes in Florida next time and make sure no one is wrongly excluded from the electoral roll?
Laurence Whiteside, UK

Being Russian, I can certainly tell that the coverage on the national TV (the only one present here) was unequal, plainly in favour of United Russia.
What worries me more that two of the parties to get the most votes - United Russia and Zhirinovski's LDPR - did not present a coherent, realistic programme. Pretty much the only message of United Russia was 'We Support Putin', and Zhirinovski has never had a credible electoral platform... The liberal parties and the communists (and I prefer the former to the latter) at least offered some proposals, but that did not help either party. And another thought; The Parliamentary opposition is a useful thing in any democratic debate, and it looks like we will be left without one.
Maria, Russia

I am truly glad that the elections results are as they are. I believe they truly reflect the mood in the country. The arrest of a very rich alleged criminal has nothing to do with the election results as we are seeing from the poll results for the parties that advocate him and the likes of him (SPS etc.) They simply do not and will not have the trust of the people - we have had enough of empty promises while watching Russia's money float away to Swiss banks. Now Duma will be more or less unified continuing its work under the ultimate rule of the president - that is what Russia wants!
IF, Russia

The disillusionment of Russian voters is nothing more than realism
Lazar, Canada
The apathy and general mistrust and disillusionment with the democratic processes in Russia has been portrayed by some as a sign that Russia is not really a democracy, and by others that Russians are not ready for democracy. Wrong. The disillusionment of Russian voters is nothing more than realism. It is those who believe in this thing we call democracy (whether in Russia or in the West) who are naive. It's easier to believe in a system no matter how much of a sham it is when you wallets and stomachs are full. If Europe and North America were to see their standard of living drop to Russian levels, no one here would believe that their vote counts either.
Lazar, Canada

These elections were absolutely and truly democratic. Those parties who lost can blame only themselves. Russians tired of so-called "democrats" (like Khodorkovsky) openly stealing their property and profiteering on peoples blissful ignorance. So-called democrats deserved to be kicked out of Parliament.
Max Reed, Russia

Democracy in Russia is at its infancy. It will take decades before it matures to the level that we see in the US, UK or India. The shadows and fear of the past communist era still loom large in the hearts and minds of the ordinary people, who have little choice but to calmly give into the bureaucratic suppression.
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland

I am very sorry that Bush's policy makes Putin's policy popular among many people in the West. I lived in Russia and I live in the USA now. British and US democracy deserves criticism and Russian "democracy" deserves more than just criticism. How can you assume presence of democracy in a country where the free news media is prosecuted. This largest country in the world is trying to swallow little vulnerable neighbouring countries like Georgia and Moldova.
ZK, Georgia, Russia, USA

Democratic in the Western sense, yes. Capitalist parties shall win, just like in the UK, USA, France, etc. The process is the same as here only in Russia the main opposition is Communist and, like here, they can never be allowed to win.
Colin Craig, Northern Ireland

Democratic or not, the Russian government will do whatever it pleases. Constitution and laws in Russia don't mean anything, because people in charge of enforcing those laws are their biggest violators.
E, Moscow, Russia

The vote count, would be fair, there's no doubt about that. The campaign of Putin's party is questionable. Then again, the last truly democratic elections were in Ancient Greece.
Alex, Russia

Democracy is a western-manufactured myth for settling the age-old issue of who shall rule. It is never the 'people' and Russia, I am afraid, has started that journey into the Western fairyland, where the people are fooled into thinking they ultimately have the power to choose their leaders. It may get better in the long run, but with the US blatantly disregarding the democratic credentials of those states it flirts with or needs the support of, there is no source for ensuring democracy will flourish in Russia. Russia will just become like a fake US, which itself is a fake democracy: a fake of a fake.
Dmitri Perovsky, Kazakhstan

Are Russia's elections truly democratic? Well, well, that is a very demeaning way of putting it. I mean, who are we to preach about impeccable democracy?
Danny Taurozzi, Canada

The tragedy here for us all is the lack of solidarity amongst opposition parties
Ewa, Poland

How come there's so much commentary about Bush and the USA in a forum about democracy in Russia? Sure, the elections in Russia will be democratic in nature, but surely not without systematic criminal manipulation by the party of power and the siloviki. The tragedy here for us all is the lack of solidarity amongst opposition parties. If only Yabloko Yavlinsky would compromise on his high laurels for the greater good and get something done! Come spend 10 years in Russia and you'll see what I mean, and then you'll be sick and tired of the all the complainers in Britain and the USA.
Ewa, Poland

Democracy is a system which allows the poor to choose a leader to take the blame for all the bad stuff that the rich do. It looks to me like Russia has as much democracy as anyone else.
Gary Chiles, New Zealand

I do not believe that they are any worse than those in the UK or US
R Read, UK
The real question that you should be asking is are they any less democratic than the elections held on western so called "democratic" countries. I do not believe that they are any worse than those in the UK or USA.
R Read, UK

Democracy is a system which allows the poor to choose a leader to take the blame for all the bad stuff that the rich do. It looks to me like Russia has as much democracy as anyone else.
Gary Chiles, New Zealand

Fair or not, judging from some previous posts, I think the Russian people are far more capable than we are in the US. I believe they will read and understand the ballot before casting their vote. They will not complain later that they could not understand the ballot designed by there own party. I am sure the Russians have a better understanding of their history and political process, fair or not. Many in my country were asleep when learning about the purpose and reason for the Electoral College. Many US citizens are unaware that four times in US history, the presidential candidate that lost the election had a majority popular vote. I wish all the best for the people of Russia. If given the chance, their populace will recognize the critical nature of these elections and will strive to reopen the doors that Putin has been busy closing.
Michael V, USA

I just adore these kinds of questions. It gives everyone with an axe to grind against the U.S. a free go of it. The issue is RUSSIA'S electoral process. I didn't vote for Bush either, but it is far too easy to substitute sarcastic criticism for really insightful comments. For the record, I feel there has been progress, but I still have concerns over Russian democracy. Cracking down on corruption, good; subverting independent media, bad. The Russian people must assume ownership of their democracy.
Guy, USA

These elections look a lot more democratic than in the US and UK, as 50% of the MPs to be in the parliament are elected by a national "for party" vote and there is a higher chance for smaller parties to get elected. US and UK regional type of voting makes only mainstream parties electable and many votes are not taken into account. Also, in Russia, everyone votes! Compare this to Latvia and Estonia, where up to 25% of adult population have no right to vote, being ethnic minorities.
Naveen, UK, Russia

I don't think anybody actually believes that the Russian elections are fair and democratic - except maybe George W. Bush. But then, he actually believes he was elected POTUS. So, there you go.
Robert, USA

Perhaps this question should be asked about the up-coming U.S Presidential Election. After all, the guy who won the votes didn't get the job.
Ian, Brit in USA

After 20 years of democracy in my country and being witness of what happens in other countries, it's only two democratic acts in which the people can participate: elections and protests.
Norberto, Argentina

Yes, I do believe elections in Russia will be truly democratic because its the best time for president Putin to show a fair image of Russia to international communities before the presidential elections.
Dev, Mauritius

There was no huge amount of bickering, finger-pointing and droppings-throwing like in the last campaign
Yakov, Russia
This campaign was very peaceful. I saw plenty of representatives of all major parties on the TV but there was no huge amount of bickering, finger-pointing and droppings-throwing like in the last campaign. I wouldn't exactly trust that certain people would not try to "do something about" the elections should the need arise, but this time there is simply no need for that, since pro-government party will probably get the most votes anyway. Obviously the government is trying to influence the outcome of the elections (who doesn't?) but they use much finer tactics than what is attributed to them in some media.
Yakov, Russia

At least the elections in Russia will probably be more democratic than in USA.
Mark, Germany

Without holding brief for Putin and his allies, it boggles the mind how the mass media in the West are pre-judging the parliamentary elections. Democracy is never perfect in any country. Are the oligarchs the barometer we are going to use to judge how democratic Russia is? It is fair to say that, while Russia has a long way to go to have genuine democracy, it is wrong to cast the elections as useless. And why blame Putin for the hapless state of the Duma?
Isaac Klogo, Canada

At least, we can vote for anyone we like or for nobody. As for that all the politicians give us is false promises and those who have power and/or a lot of money have also more publicity, I am afraid, it is the same everywhere.
Mikhail Kononov, Russia

Russian people need to realize that their country's fate is in their hands. If they don't go out and vote because they think that their votes will not change anything they will have no one to blame but themselves when the wrong people come to power. Russian people have power to change things in their country. The elections in Russia will become free and democratic only when the people realize their responsibility to choose their own government and hold that government accountable.
Alex, U.S.A.

It is critical that Russia is on the road to democracy. Russia has yet to make all the advancements, such as a well balanced and stable economy. As of now the majority of the wealth is distributed to the tycoons who prospered out of the dissolved Soviet Union. We will see how serious Putin is about the further crack down of the powerful tycoons, that will be the true determinant of a prospering democracy in Russia.
Oron Rosenkrantz, Israel/USA

I don't believe that Russia's elections truly democratic. I think the mafia's shadow will be over the election. Because The mafia in Russia still has an effective grip on almost everything.
Ayhan Inan, Turkey

Democracy was already threatened when wealthy and corrupt oligarchs use their wealth and power to influence elections by financing political parties that are friendly to their needs. Russia urgently needs electoral reforms that cap personal and corporate contributions to political parties. Also all public enterprises that were sold during the nineties should be investigated thoroughly. Maybe shares of these ill gotten assets should be sold on the stock market for the average Russians to purchase. Democracy and free enterprise works best when it involves the broadest section of the populace, not just a privileged or a powerful few; be it a oligarch or a Commissar.
Shiran Vyasa, Ontario, Canada

Considering our last presidential election here in the U.S. combined with the Patriot Act and attacks on anybody critical of the current administration, it is hard to believe it would be any worse in Russia.
Vic, USA

The measures Putin has taken against the Yukos leaders are a very calculated move to boost his popularity in the coming elections.
Ari, Finland





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