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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 08:33 GMT
Will the Russian elections change anything?




The elections on 19 December to Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, are the last before Russia chooses a president to succeed Boris Yeltsin.

Russia at the Polls
What's at stake
Who's who
Russia's regions
But polls show that Russia's voters are disillusioned. There have been corruption allegations against members of parliament, the passage of legislation has been slow and there is relatively little in the way of ideological difference between the main parties. As in 1995, the chances are that no single party or bloc will gain an absolute majority.

Meanwhile, there is no clear strategy for economic recovery, wages are poor and corruption eats into the state apparatus.

Against this background, do the elections matter? Can Russians hope for real change from their political system or do you think the system itself need changing?

HAVE YOUR SAY

While I would love to believe that the elections will make a difference, in all honesty I cannot. The fundamental problem is that the difference between the haves and the have-nots is now greater than at any other time in their history. The difference between 1917 and now is that the underclass are now educated and have the capability to organise on an unimagined scale through the press and the internet. Added to this is the fact that Russia still has the second biggest nuclear arsenal in the world. I tremble at the thought of the day when (not if) the Russian masses will once again vote with their feet and not the pen.
Mike, Spain



Russia must once again become a major player in the world scene. If that means returning to a communist economy so be it. Currently it seems there is no world balance of power. It is however possible that Russia is playing a silent chess game whose moves cannot be predicted by the west.
Henry Stein, USA
It is obvious that our political system has to be changed, with the presidential position cancelled and with the parliamentary majority forming its government. That would mean the leader of the winning party emerging as a Prime Minister and the head of the country. Neither there should be any "federal" lists or 5%-"thresholds". Only actual individuals must be eligible. But we are not ready to this so far - now that would probably switch power to Communists. We have to make do with what we have. I have voted right wing, I am very happy so many Russians made the RIGHT choice.
Serge, Russia

I think that elections do matter for Russian political life because the last Duma, with it's communist majority was busy only criticising the government and not proposing anything helpful for the Russian people. I think that the people of Russia should make the right decision and do everything in their powers to form a democratic majority in Duma.
Shuhrat Haitov, Uzbekistan

All elections are good for the peope of Russia.They take their opportunity to vote very seriously. I hope that these elections do make a difference in the long run for the people who deserve more than they now have. However, the only thing that will begin to make a big difference in Russia is land reform, and the government has not yet looked at this problem. Nothing will really change until the rural population is given a chance to own land and the agricultural industry is allowed to provide foods and grains for profit on a large scale. An agricultural industry needs to exist so the Russian people will not have to rely on the EU and the USA.
Larry, USA

It depends who gets elected; any change from the Yeltsin clan and his proposed successor - even the communists - could mean a dismantling of the present corrupt system. But it is the West's interests which have initiated this corrupt system. Perhaps a more isolationist government would count more on its own resources.
Andrew Massing, Germany

These elections will not change anything, neither will the subsequent ones. Every year it seems that Russian people are worse off, and understandably they believe less in 'Democracy'. The threshold was probably passed already a few years ago.

The chances of transforming Russia quickly into a real democracy were slim from the beginning. After what has been happening in last eight years those chances are nil. Russia is now in a state of anarchy in which common people's life is a nightmare. Even daily survival is becoming beyond reach for many. Before thinking about democracy, people need to have food, water, place to live, safety and fuel to keep themselves warm in cold winters. The existing quasi-democratic system in Russia is apparently delivering less of those necessities than the Communist system did. What is the way out of this disaster? Most likely it will be bloody: From the current anarchy a strongman will appear and establish a new autocratic system. The deeper Russia descends, the more violent will be the process. In my heart I feel sorry for the Russian people and hope that good times will some day come to them as well - they have been suffering so much...
Murat Erkocevic, United States



Any election is a good election for Russia as it perpetuates a fledgling democracy. Unfortunately nothing that matters changes. The bureaucracy now accepts $US for the most menial tasks and the system does not work as no one will accept responsibility. If you want something you pay.
Geoff, New Zealand
Any election is a good election for Russia as it perpetuates a fledgling democracy. Unfortunately nothing that matters changes. The bureaucracy now accepts $US for the most menial tasks and the system does not work as no one will accept responsibility. If you want something you pay. This ethic and level of corruption has existed since time immemorial - the communists merely refined it from simple corruption to outright theft and those who succeeded communism raised this to undreamed of heights. This is potentially the richest country in the world for raw materials and skilled manpower but this power generation will have to die, and the next and the next before the regular and gradual weakening of the power base plus an influx of investment will correct 80 years of communist abuse. The west can best help by continuing investment in joint ventures and technological exchange and remembering that this is a sovereign country, help it or leave it alone. The world is sick of dictators on the one hand and freedom hypocrites on the other.
Geoff, New Zealand

The opinion that most clarifies the present state of corruption in Russia is Matt Browns'. Where is the common unity in Russia? At least, with communism there was a common bond for Russia,...no less corruption but the country had some unity. Now, there is no one common objective, except for survival and by desperate means. If you look at Russia with more land mass, natural resources, seaports on both Atlantic and pacific; what's wrong? No economic plan, no world commerce, no exports. Russia is stagnant. Yes, elections will at least gather a survey of what Russians think. The corruption must go. There is no law and order how can there be an honest tally of political opinion. Russia is dying from corruption. Who can save Russia from themselves?.... no one except Russia.
Melanie, USA

I feel that although there are many faults in the Russian system of government, you have to remember that it has taken them only ten years to adopt a democratic system; it took Britain centuries to achieve what it has today and it still has room for improvement. I do feel that more needs to be done to prevent cronyism & corruption but I think when Yeltsin goes, Russia will improve economically and may get the chance to develop its federal system of government and give more power to the regions. Then, the people may have more faith in its politicians and elect more moderate and liberal people.
Ash, United Kingdom

Russia's political culture is one of dictatorship - the Tsars, the Communists and now Yeltsin. No one should be surprised if Western Liberal Democracy fails to work in the same way there as it does here. That said, better the Russians, even Russian dictators, should make their own decisions than have them imposed by the West. For all the humanitarian liberalism that surrounds the self-congratulation on the fall of Communism we must remember that Western Liberalism serves Western interests - the well being of Russia will always come second.
Chris, UK



Now that communism has been abandoned, Russia is being pushed further and further away from the world scene by the US. The US and its puppet governments have completely isolated Russia.
AG, Greece
I'll tell you what can change the current living conditions in Russia: the west. The "west," particularly the USA, has won the Cold War and has convinced the Russians and all eastern Europeans to abandon communism. Now that communism has been abandoned, Russia is being pushed further and further away from the world scene by the US. The US and its puppet governments have completely isolated Russia. We, here in the EU, need to stop backing America's constant criticisms of Russia, and should respect Russia's opinions in international issues. We need to stop assuming that the US knows more on how to handle world issues; Washington's opinions are almost always biased and influenced by Wall Street and Hollywood. Americans shouldn't act surprised now that Russia is seeking partnerships with China. Folks, this is what happens when we ignore a friend: that friend soon leaves you and becomes friends with your enemy.
AG, Greece

I'm married to a Russian woman, as a result rather like Matt Brown my experience has exposed to me the relentless grind my Russian relatives are subjected to. My father & mother in law have to survive on a combined pension of 30$ a month. Frankly, all elections are irrelevant until the Duma start to manage the country in the peoples interests not their interests! This of course is impossible. To illustrate the point, look at the publicly declared earnings of Russian Politicians. I wonder how they survive!
Simon Porter, UK

Yes, any election is vital in Russia. Unlike the United States: nobody cares who gets elected President there, since absolutely nothing will change in their life; maybe taxes would increase or decrease a little. Elections might not have any immediate effect, but every new general election (this will be the seventh Duma in Russian history!) improves the fundament of democracy and brings experience to voters and politicians. After all, elections are an expression of citizens' mood and opinion. The number of votes received by Communists is like a thermometer of every region's economy.
Andrej, Russia

If nothing else, the practice of democracy prevents dictatorships. Eventually, politicians have to act at least a little responsive.
Pete Steinberg, United States

Yes, it will positively give benefit to Russian people and will bring a difference since Yeltsin is no more capable to continue due to health and hence the major decisions for the country are getting delayed infinitely. This is very dangerous, especially considering the country is very young.
But at the same time one should not forget that Russia is a young country and it will take time to MATURE and nobody should expect an immediate effect on the economy.
Prasad Kothare, India



I have been shocked and depressed with the rampant corruption and complete lack of a civic society that exists, and perhaps has always existed, in this country.
Matt Brown, Russia
Speaking as a first-time, 6-month resident of Russia (St Petersburg), originally from the UK, I have been shocked and depressed with the rampant corruption and complete lack of a civic society that exists, and perhaps has always existed, in this country.
Romantics in the west ask me about Russia's historic journey towards democracy but the only date that my friends here think about is August 17 1998 when the rouble crashed and their ability to function in society was destroyed by sudden poverty: now everything is a struggle to make ends meet and in the case of pensioners, street children, the disabled, even the police, finding food and keeping warm take precedence over ideological niceties.
No wonder everyone, to some degree or another, rips everyone else off: politicians and businessmen just seem to be better and more cunning at it. One friend, who saw his salary drop from $600 to $100 a month overnight - a bright, educated, professional man - despairs of those in power 'dividing the spoils'.
I have experienced it myself - middle management types robbing junior workers, creaming of $20 here and $20 there. It's everyday life, and they'll never be a responsible political class while the thieving goes on at a level where tomorrow's leaders are now. It simply builds despair and cruelty. Was it always like this in Russia, I asked my friend? Not in Soviet times, he says with a grim smile. And he's as pro-Western as they get...
Matt Brown, Russia



The elections will only have an effect on the distribution of assets among the groups who have varying degrees of control of the political and economic machinery
Peter, USA
The elections will only have an effect on the distribution of assets among the groups who have varying degrees of control of the political and economic machinery. The only tangible significance of elections is that they will actually occur. We must not forget that Russia is a brand new democracy and any reaffirmation of representative government, although imperfect, is a positive step.
Peter, USA

I am concerned about upcoming parliament elections because their results are going to be overly dependent on the military operation in Chechnya. Speculations about this operation may bring power to those politicians who care about their career more than about well being of Russia. In the past, I was tired of seeing squabbling deputies in our Duma. I hope that this time our parliament will be healthier. What I am sure about is that today Russia no longer has illusions that the West (particularly the US and Great Britain) can be friendly or supportive while Russia remains politically and economically independent. In this respect, I feel confident new Duma will have a smaller fraction of pro-Western deputies.
Yevgeni, Russia



Regardless of who is popularly elected in any election held within Russia, we must remember that the Russian military inevitably retains hold on the balance of power
Bob Ezergailis, Canada
Regardless of who is popularly elected in any election held within Russia, we must remember that the Russian military inevitably retains hold on the balance of power. If the Russian military is made excessively unhappy, those who are elected will perish, in one way or another, from power. Yeltsin was fortunate in being able to achieve a solid relationship with that military, and in effect became their commander in chief. However, we must have grave concerns should that relationship become eroded. Politics in Russia currently has to include the concern with upholding Russia's national security, and therefore assertions by its military that it can accomplish that task effectively. Any politician will have to bow to those forces, and other issues, such as the economy, take second place to that primary concern.
Bob Ezergailis, Canada

Speaking as a direct neighbour I definitively think any election carried out in current Russia will be good and help the nation to adjust into freedoms that they never enjoyed for last 1000 years. It may appear as an exercise for western observers but a necessary exercise. Russians are on the right track. What they need is more elections and more support for the forces of democracy. They do not need any other support really.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

It is hard to see how Russia can be regarded as a democratic state in view of events in Chechnya. Such a bloody onslaught against helpless civilians with no real attempt at a diplomatic solution, undermines the spirit of democracy.
Phil Hall, UK



Surely anything is better than a return to Communism? Sometimes there is a high price to pay for democracy but these elections are what Gorbachev's struggle was all about
David Green, Englande
Surely anything is better than a return to Communism? Sometimes there is a high price to pay for democracy but these elections are what Gorbachev's struggle was all about. Disillusioned voters and allegations of corruption are nothing new. Look at Britain.
David Green, England

The only beneficiaries of this new so-called democratic Russia is the ruling oligarchy, who funnel the funds disbursed by the IMF direct to their off-shore accounts, as well as the dying breed of British private schools who have been resurrected to educate the offspring of the Russian Mafia to be as snobbish as their British counterparts and to impart respectability to the younger generation which the parents lack. The sham elections organised by the con men of Madison Avenue hired specifically for this purpose are unlikely to bring any succour to the long-suffering Russians.
Mohansingh, India



The elections DO matter as they would in any other democratic country. The Russian political system is a presidential republic and is rather similar to that of the United States and does not need any particular change.
Andrei Smilga, Russia
Although Yeltsin has installed his man as Prime Minister (and a popular PM due to the Chechen conflict) even a Yeltsin puppet is better than Yeltsin himself. These days Yeltsin goes from one health crisis to another and nothing gets done. The Yeltsin cronyism will probably live on with the likes of Putin, but a strong leader has to be better than an ill one.
Matt, Ireland

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