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Name-Daniel Chipeta


East European Politics


2years Undergraduate

To what extent is Russia a democracy under Putin

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, political scientist across the globe, argued whether the new Russia which
comes out of the Soviet Union would democratize and eventually become a free market economy .This essay will
first look at how democracy is defined in contemporary political world. Political Scientist's have different views on
the definition and measurement of democracy. There is wide range of literature which attempts to define
democracy .Schumpeter definition focus one elections; he argues that democratic method is that institutional
arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realises the common good making the people itself decide
issues through elections (Schumpeter, 1981:251).
According to Schumpeter ,being able to hold elections which are competitive, free and fair is the benchmark for
democracy.Betheem (1991) argues that the Schumpeterian of definition democracy based on defining democracy
on particular institutions and set of institutional arrangements does not take in account the principals and values
which these institutions embody. For Betheem(1999) The only way to avoid "circularity is by specifying the
underlying principles which these institutions embody or help to realize, and in terms of which they can plausibly
be characterized as democratic (Beetham, 1999: 90).Duncan (1983) is more concerned with the normative
underpinnings such as values ,institutions and legitimacy, he argues that a theory of democracy must maintain
certain elements an account of values or principals which democratic institutions are to realize eg rule of the
people or popular choice between candidates for government (Duncan,1983:9) .
This essay will use the Schumpeter definition of democracy, but also base its core arguments on whether Russia
has democratic institutions and whether the institutions have the values which can be characterized as democratic
and whether Putin himself has the legitimacy of his people. The foundation of democracy is perhaps shown
through the commitment to which the country or the people are able to commit to the values and principles of
democracy. I will argue that Russia "is not an electoral democracy, the 2012 presidential election was skewed in
favour of prime minister and former president Vladimir Putin, who benefited from preferential media treatment,
numerous abuses of incumbency, and procedural irregularities during the vote count, among other advantages.
The deeply flawed 2011 Duma elections were marked by a convergence of the state and the governing party,
limited political competition and a lack of fairness, ( Putin has managed to create his
own version of democracy which is called managed democracy. This is different from the western Liberal aspect of
what we call democracy.

Lack of separation of power

One way of assessing whether a country is a democracy is by looking at whether the country has the separations of
powers. Indeed "there can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person
or body of magistrates or if the power of the judging be not separated"(Sundquist, J.1986:18). The constitutions of
1991 created an executive branch was led by a powerful head of state, according to the constitutions the president
is the guarantor and protector of the rights and liberties of Russians Citizens" (Shiraev.2010:96) he sets out
domestic and foreign policy. Under the executive is the all-important Security Council ,this is an institution which
advises and assists the head of the Russia state on matters related to the overall security of the country and
protection of Russian Citizens. Under the head of state is the Prime minister, the president must "attract 50
percent of the poll"(Waller, 2005:27).
However under Putin the direct election of the regional governors were ended, power was given to the president
to nominate them and confirmed by the regional legislature. Putin made further changes by creating seven federal
districts. Which are cronies of Kremlin "the era of no pluralism checks and balances on the power of the Russian
president, Putin has extended the patronage of the presidency, far beyond these constitutional provisions "(Waller,
2005:31). The extent to which Putin has consumed the power and influence of the presidency goes against the
idea of the idea that in a democracy, democratic institutions must carry the values and principals which realize
values such as eg rule of the people or popular choice between candidates for government"(Duncan,1983:9) .
Although the Constitutions gives the Judiciary independence from the Legislature and Executive forms of
Government, most political pundits and scholars argue, the main components of the judiciary and the agencies
which support the Judiciary such as the police and prosecution authorities are controlled by Putin"The judiciary
lacks independence from the executive branch, and career advancement is effectively tied to compliance with
Kremlin preferences. The justice system has been tarnished by politically fraught cases such as that of Mikhail
Khodorkovsky" ( As argued above under Putin institutions are there although maybe you
would argue to the extent to which they are dominated by the executive is sole reason why they are not
independent, Indeed Garry Kasporv and opposition leader argued that the "the Russian Judiciary system is no
longer a guardian of electoral law, by creating an illusion of serving law, it is in reality an obedient instrument of
executive power"(Shiraev, 2010:135).
Institutions which are supposed to be representative of the people in Russia, such as the Legislature, do not have
much influence over government policies .Under Putin the executive and administrative is sore body which as
consumed all the power .This has resulted in unhealthy relationship ,and the eroding of the checks and balances
for the executive. The Legislature is made up of the a lower house which is called the State Duma .The Duma's
power to force the resignation of the Government is severely limited. It may express a vote of no confidence in the
Government by a majority vote of all members of the Duma, but the President is allowed to disregard this vote.

"the heavily manipulated December 2007 parliamentary elections gave the ruling United Russia party 315 of the
450 Duma seats, while two other parties that generally support the Kremlin, Just Russia and the nationalist Liberal
Democratic to 38 and 40 seats in the effectively toothless legislature"(

Putin has also weakened the federal council the upper body of the legislature."The president had managed to get
rid of one of the strongest and most authoritative state bodies in the country. Under the old structure, the
Federation Council provided somewhat of a checks and balance on the other branches of power, especially the
executive, which is fast evolving into an authoritarian regime" (Colton and McFaul /2003) .Through the first half of
the essay we have seen that Russia under Putin has the institutions which are needed in a democratic society.
However whether these institutions have the capacity and values needed for the democratic process to work
properly is another matter.
Political Parties under Putin
Putin has managed to remove the competiveness of political parties ,Under Putin the political parties have all but
been weakened indeed "Russia political party system is weak and depends on the country's executive power"
"(Shiraev,2010:170),not only that but Putin ,has made sure that only party dominates the political arena ,his party
United Russia

which has been describe as "convenient party that allows Putin to maintain control over

government and neutralize opponents within Moscow establishment"(Shiraev,2010:162).Herspring argues that

"the key point is that unless democratisation is institutionalised in the form of genuinely functional political parties,
the outlook of democracy in Russia is mixed at best" (Hersprng,2005:7).
Free and Competitive Election
Although Under Putin elections are held, this is a bench mark for democracy for Schumpeter. Elections under Putin
are held but under a tent of Putin's turf, according to Yvlinsky"free and equal elections and politically competitive
elections are impossible since the country lacked the three essential ingredients for a free elections :independent
courts, free mass media and sources of finance free from the Kremlin influence"(Sakwa,2004:1150),Sakwa argues
that "under Putin Russian electoral system become ever more regulated and the competiveness of the whole
process become ever narrower"(Sakwa,2004:122),this shows how under Putin the false pretence of elections to try
and tick the boxes of democracy is sham and to an extent a con .There no free and fair elections in Russia under
Putin. This moves Russia under Putin further away from the position of being a democracy.
State and Civil Society
Under Putin Civil Society has but completely been weakened, as the result of Putin's effort to make sure that they
don't interfere with his state managed democracy , "the Russian leader has thoroughly stomped on democratic
principles by heavily regulating and restricting civil society, branding all NGOs that receive foreign funding as

foreign agents" ,( has used the secret service the FSB headed by his associate
Nikolia Patrushev to step up "its harassment of targeted human rights activists and environmentalists, western
non-governmental organisations, and religious groups affiliated with outside organisations"(Hersprng,2005:22) the
restrictions of the freedom of civil societies to have a role in Russian polity under Putin is another aspect of
how ,Putin has tightened the space for democratic practices and development in Russia, further advancing my
argument that under Putin Russia is in longer a democracy if using my definition of democracy.
Press Freedom under Putin
In assessing whether Russia is a democracy we must look at whether Russia has a free press ,indeed in order for a
country to be seen as democratic it must have a robust free press which can hold the executive and the elites to
account .Sakwa (2004) argues that Putin administration was accompanied by fears media freedom. Indeed under
Putin regime has gone out its way to make sure that independent media is all but gone in Russia, "the raid by
masked tax police on the offices of Gusiskys NTV, the only national independent TV station on may 2001 followed
on his four day incarnation suggested a sustained assault against press freedom" (Sakwa, 2004:151) "Putin has also
tightened the states grip on the mass media assigning priority to national television " (Herspring, 2005:23).
The freedom house listed Russia "as not free for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union" (Herspsring
2005:24). "Parliament elections cannot occur without a pluralist and independent present, this was because the
state controlled press helped boost Putin party United Russia vote total while denying other parties national
exposure since June 2003, when the last independent national television network, TVS, was seized by the
government, allegedly to settle the company's debts, all Russian national television networks have been controlled
by the government or by economic interests that support the government and uniformly praise the
president."( Until Russian society values and is willing to defend a free independent press
as basic institution of democracy, future opposition of Putin attempts to compress independent media in Russia
will find it impossible to continue advocating a free press in Russia.
Perhaps Putin has legitimacy from his people
Putin has the legitimacy of his people, many of his people support him, indeed although many in the western
political circles argue that Putin is taking Russia to an authoritarian place, Putin approval ratings from of his people
are constantly high, Indeed Putin approval ratings Hover around 60 percent mark .Comparing that to the so called
western democracy such as American, no United States president has been able to equal Putins approval ratings
since record of polling began. President, Vladimir Putin, "although seen as a viable choice for president by just 2%
in 1999, was just re-elected by over 70% of those casting ballots, with his supporters representing a wide crosssection of the population, cutting across
dispositions"(Sil and Chen, 2004, pp. 347-368 ).

age groups, income levels, education levels and ideological

However if we are talking about Putin having the legitimacy and support from his people due to his projection of a
hard strong leader, then it is vital to acknowledge that Putin's approval ratings has not translated into increased
government legitimacy or a positive outlook on the direction of Russian politics. "Public opinion polls show mass
dissatisfaction with political institutions and political actors State Legitimacy and the Insignificance of Democracy in
Post-Communist Russia(Sil and Chen, 2004:347-368 ).Far from being popular and having the support of the people
some scholars have argued that" the Kremlin policy of maintaining Putin's popularity ratings is based on public
relations spin, manipulation of social mentality, and stirring up the dark sides of societal consciousnesses by
playing on fears, nostalgia for the past, insecurities, illusions and a longing for order" (Kuchins,2002:68),the belief
of going back to the old days of soviet rule is maybe one reason why Russians support Putin because he is seen as
restoring Russia strength on the world order.
Perhaps Russian public do not understand and appreciate democracy
Russian public have a limited understanding of democracy, indeed Although this literature is perfectly correct in
finding that most Russians have favourable attitudes toward democracy, when these findings are examined in
broader cross-cultural perspective one finds that support for democracy is relatively weak in Russiaindeed, it is
weaker than in almost any other country among the more than 70 societies covered by the Values Surveys.
(,the the main challenge for Russians people is not whether they have the right
institutions and whether Putin is has there support. It is maybe because for virtually the first time in their history,
Russians realised that they had the instrument of political democracy: competitive elections, but they do not know
why they need this instrument.
Putin established the belief that Russias authoritarian traditions are morally the equal of democratic western
traditions. Indeed Putin's supporters argue that Russians value and want a strong state, economic growth and
security more than human rights or democracy, which have no roots in Russian history (Shiraev, 2010). According
to Carnaghan Russian's show low levels of support for representative institutions, little confidence in the
responsiveness of elected officials, and limited willingness to participate politically. Ordinary Russians tend to over
look institutions in their definitions of democracy. Many seem to want a strong leader who will impose order on a
chaotic society, (Carnaghan 2001: 336-366).
Managed democracy
Perhaps Russia is unique in a sense that it has created its version of democracy, the so called Sovereign democracy,
Indeed Putin come in power and thereafter consolidated what become known as managed democracy "Managed
democracy controls society while providing the appearance of democracy. Its main characteristics are as follows a
strong presidency and weak institutions State control of the media Control over elections allows elites to legitimize
their decisions visible short-term effectiveness and long-term inefficiency the result is an unstable stability based

on the presidents personality. He is actually a hostage of the system." ( the

core of the concept is the idea that Russia is democratic system with unique Russia features. In a sovereign
democracy people vested in power, governmental bodies and their policies are elected, formed and guided
exclusively by the Russian nation in all its diversity and Integrity" (Sakwa,R2008:95),many scholars and experts do
not see it that way because they overlook the uniqueness of the Russian democratic model. Sovereign democracy
attempt to emphasise national sovereignty and the autonomy of Russias democratic traditions (Sakwa, 2008).
To conclude ,Most scholars have argued that maybe the collapse of the soviet union would have led the transition
of democracy, but it has done the opposite ,Putin "has taken a variety of measures to reduce the influence of all
sources of power outside the presidency ,including regional governors ,oligarchs, political parties, the
Duma ,independent media, civil society"(Kuchin,2002:7) and has concentrated power to the centre, at the same
time he has made sure that those institutions which are needed to make the wheels of democracy spin are weak
and are under the influence of the presidency. Perhaps Russia under Putin is a managed democracy making sure
every ounce of democratic society is managed from the top and controlled.


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Brian D. Taylor Source: Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Mar., 2006), pp. 193-213organisations for
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Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.