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Is Russia a Democracy?

Democracy means different things to different people and many forms of democracies exist in the world today. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia embraced democracy, the progress of which is being monitored closely by the world. This essay examines the question of whether Russia is a democracy.

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In a traditional democracy, certain characteristics are considered essential for a nation to be called a democracy. In a democracy, leaders are elected by the people through a formal voting system either through directly electing the head as in a presidential type or by electing representatives who choose the leader as in a parliamentary type of democracy. In either case, elections must be free and fair for which an independent judiciary and an independent overseeing body such as an election commission are necessary. In a democracy, freedom of expression is sacrosanct. Censorship of the press is not permitted except in extremely exceptional circumstances. Democracies are supposed to be free of authoritarianism and tyranny where the individual rights of the citizens are paramount.

The nature of democracy in any state is shaped to some extent by the preceding dispensation that ruled that state. Some states successfully discard historical baggage and practices other have not been so successful. In the case of Russia, the totalitarian character of the Communist regime continued to influence Russia even after its first democratic elections in 1991. Colton & Hough observes that Russia is “at best a proto-democratic melange, mixing ingredients of representative government with generous portions of bossism, corruption, and anarchy” (1998, p. 1). Undoubtedly, Russia has followed the democratic model of electing its leaders through a formal election process and thus the framework of electoral democracy is very much in place (Herspring, 2005, p. 13). Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer Russia has seen the erosion in the system of ‘checks and balances’ that were put into place by the first President, Boris Yeltsin. Putin established seven super regions akin to federal districts and staffed them with his chosen representatives from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the army, or the police to have these representatives oversee activities of bureaucrats and report to the President’s office in case of irregularities being detected (Herspring, p. 18). Russia’s party system lacks distinct identities and vigour that are common in western democracies (Herspring, p. 20). The Central government arbitrarily interferes with local elections (Herspring, p. 21). The media in Russia has virtually no freedom and it continues to operate in almost the same manner as it did during the communist regime. Kremlin manages Russian elections by control over rules and procedures, banning unwanted candidates (Ostrow, Satarov, & Khakamada, 2007, p. 113). Thus it comes as no surprise that Putin continues to wield power now as the Prime Minister has handed over the job of the President to his protégé Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

In conclusion, it can be stated that Russian democracy is not yet a true democracy. The influences of the Soviet era still haunt its leaders. The state control over the electoral process, media, and almost every walk of life persist. Russian democracy can best be described as a newly emerging democracy, which is as yet characterized by pre-democratic traditions including limited freedoms and rights (Hague & Harrop, 2001, p. 14).

Works Cited

  1. Colton, T. I., & Hough, J. F, 1998, Growing Pains: Russian Democracy and the Election of 1993, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC.
  2. Hague, R., & Harrop, M, 2001, Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction, Macmillan, NY.
  3. Herspring, D. R, 2005, Putin’s Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham.
  4. Ostrow, J. M., Satarov, G., & Khakamada, I, 2007, The Consolidation of Dictatorship in Russia: An Inside view of the Demise, Greenwood Publishing, Westport.

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