Staunton, Sept. 21 – Discussions of the results of the Duma elections dominate the Russian media, but commentator Olga Tukhanina argues that “the main results of the elections of 2021 in Russia was that in essence there were no results and that there is nothing to talk about.” Nothing has changed; indeed, nothing has even been unsettled.
Earlier, she points out, Russian elections have been typically connected with a certain growth in protest activity; but this time around, even that did not happen. Instead, by a combination of official manipulation and popular indifference, the Kremlin quietly approached its goal of putting “a quasi-Soviet system” in place (publizist.ru/blogs/109433/40845/20).
The only people writing and speaking about the elections were those “directly connected with them because of their jobs or their involvement in the campaigns. Everyone else ceased to view the electoral process any news at all. The Russian stock exchange rose and fell not because of the voting but because of the decisions of the Chinese and American governments.
Those among the powers that be who managed the elections learned their lessons from the past and this time “did not commit a single mistake, There weren’t any loud victories of spoilers in gubernatorial elections, there weren’t any scandals with the ballots, there weren’t any results in the regions that had to be reviewed.”
Indeed, the election changed so little that many have begun to ask whether Russia needs elections at all. They are a distraction without consequence, Tukhanina says. They certainly don’t reflect the attitudes of the population, and they don’t force the powers to change course even in the face of such serious challenges as the pandemic.
Even United Russia which retained its constitutional majority doesn’t speak about success but rather about its effective management of the electoral process. The entire game was nothing more than that. It wasn’t about gaining or keeping power but managing what already is in place.
Nonetheless, we can say, the commentator concludes, that ‘in these elections, we have observed the completion of the formation of our political system. This is a system in which there is no division of powers. All parts of the state work according to a single order … In our parliament there is no fraction which seeks to become a real parliamentary majority.”
Instead, “each fraction occupies its own niche and plays its own role, one known to all for a long time already.” As a result, she says, “we have obtained a quasi-soviet system in which all the results are known in advance and deputies are not so much chosen as selected.” There is one difference. In Soviet times, voting was a ritual; now, it has lost that quality.
And that raises questions. If elections aren’t about reflecting the attitudes of the voters or mobilizing the population, then what are they for? Is it only to send a message to the rest of the world that Russia at least as a system that looks like a democracy as long as you don’t examine it too closely?
“The authorities suppose that elections help them divide responsibility with what happens in the country,” but it doesn’t do anything of the kind because of how the people view the elections and the authorities too, Tukhanina says. And that is a fundamental weakness of the existing political system.
Other shortcomings include “an extraordinary dependence of the system on specific individuals, the growing demobilization of society, and the absence of any change for a broad channeling of concerns and negative attitudes.” Real elections could help overcome all of that, but they could occur only if the system itself changed.
Tukhanina concludes that elections can continue in Russia or they can be ended, noting that people can live very well with an appendix and just as well without one.