Staunton, June 1 – Most analysts argue that one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s biggest mistakes was allowing Boris Yeltsin to take part in and win an election in the Russian Federation while continuing to refuse to face the voters himself. As a result, Yeltsin gained the legitimacy only elections can provide and that Gorbachev lacked.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Vladimir Putin is moving rapidly to create a political system in which he will be the only leader who is elected, something that will allow him to claim legitimacy however fraudulent the voting in Russia is and, what is more, denying to anyone else a similar legitimation at the hands of the electorate.
That is one of the implications of a lead article in today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta which suggests that Russia is moving to a political system in which the president will be elected and thus legitimated by the voters but that others, even if nominally elected, will in fact become bureaucrats (ng.ru/editorial/2018-06-01/2_7237_red.html).
No one should be surprised, the editors say, that “practically all gubernatorial elections are occurring according to a referendum scenario. Opposition parties, even if they want to do not have the chances to attract serious local figures who would agree to compete with those appointed from Moscow.”
All this, the paper says, given that the country has been “centralized and hierarchical from the beginning,” it would be “illogical to give the right of popular legitimacy to anyone except the very top boss.” Indeed, a large segment of the governors were transformed into bureaucrats already in the early 2000s, before the formal elimination of elections.”
There is a delicious irony here. Putin’s actions constitute an implicit recognition of the value of elections and democracy even as he does what he can to exploit their value for himself while denying such an opportunity to everyone else.