Today, the Russian parliament voted 291 to 150 to strip one Gennady Gudkov of his seat. Gudkov, a former KGB man and businessman, has served in the Duma, the Russian parliament, for eleven years, most of them in the leftist Just Russia party.
When I read Paul Starobin’s recent article “Why Russia’s Post-Putin Future May Not Be Democratic”, I couldn’t help but disagree with his skeptical assessment of the political inclinations of the Russian people. Indeed, having just recently returned from that country, where I was working as a long-term elections observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), I can attest that Russians are far more interested in liberal democracy than Mr. Starobin suggests. Mr.
As far as the actual voting was concerned, the only real question in Russia’s parliamentary election this week was the winning margin of the “party of power,” United Russia (or, as it is known by much of the public, partiya vorov i zhulikov, the party of thieves and swindlers). Would it again receive around two-thirds of the votes or rather—despite ballot-stuffing, forced voting by state employees and students, manipulation of absentee ballots and, of course, the assistance of the Central Electoral Commission in tallying up the results—just miss the mark?
Minutes after the polls closed on March 2 in the westernmost Russian city of Kaliningrad--certifying a blowout victory by presidential candidate Dmitri Anatolyevich Medvedev, handpicked heir to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin--the men of the hour made an appearance at a massive concert underway in Red Square. As broadcast by NTV, a television channel owned by Gazprom (where Medvedev chairs the board of directors), the scene looked like something out of Mission: Impossible.
IMAGINE THAT THE king has died. Now imagine that every day on television you see a procession of people chanting, “Long live the king!” Imagine it wasn’t always this way: Just a few years ago, if the king’s health became shaky, everyone discussed the problem openly. But no more. And now you have to choose. Either you go along and pretend that a dead man is alive—which isn’t all that difficult, since everyone is doing it—or you insist, unreasonably, that you see what you see, in which case you will be branded a kook. Now imagine you’ve been parachuted into a country like this as a foreign corre