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Were the Russian Presidential elections of 1996 and 2000 democratic?

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Introduction

Were the Russian Presidential elections of 1996 and 2000 democratic? Introduction The process of democratisation is central in assessing how Russia is modernising after the fall of the communist regime. Elections are pivotal to how democratic a state is, yet elections had been held in Russia during Stalin's reign and beyond. However, these were not democratic in the true sense; with only one candidate, clearly they were not competitive. As Dahl observed, 'the development of a political system that allows for opposition, rivalry, or competition between a government and its opposition is an important aspect of democratization' (Dahl, 1971, p1). In my essay I shall be assessing events of the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections and analysing how democratic these elections were. Huntington cited in Hughes' study asserted elections to be 'the essence of democracy, a vehicle of democratisation as well as the goal' (Hughes, 2000, p28). 1996 Election In the 1996 election there were a variety of candidates competing for the presidency, as Dahl stipulates is essential for democracy. Candidates needed one million signatures of support, with not more than 7% of signatures from one region. This safeguard short listed an original line-up of 78 applicants down to eleven. ...read more.

Middle

Whilst this is not undemocratic, it is an unfair advantage that Yeltsin held. In the instance that elections had been cancelled, it would have been a clear sign that democracy wasn't working. Yavlinsky is quoted as saying 'When you hear talk of postponing elections in Russia, that can mean postponing them for centuries' (White, 1997a, p244). Returning to a previous point, the signature forging episode does exemplify that undemocratic practices were occurring. The 1996 presidential elections were certainly on the path of democracy, however they were unfair and unbalanced in respect to the advantages that Yeltsin had in being the President. As observed by Stephen White, 'media observers saw the Yeltsin campaign as not living up to West European standards of fairness' (White, 1997a, p267). 2000 Election Having served two terms as Russian President, Yeltsin was ineligible to be a candidate in 2000. Putin emerged as favourite, having a base as Prime Minister and acting President due to Yeltsin's ill health. The print media did criticise Putin, so the democratic practices of the a free press was obvious. International spectators assessed the election and stated 'The European Union felt able to declare that competitive and pluralistic elections had become part of the political culture in Russia; the British Foreign Office congratulated the Russian authorities on the free and fair exercise they had conducted' (White, 2000, p317). ...read more.

Conclusion

However they were unfair in that Yeltsin and Putin already had a grasp of power and were able to use this to consolidate their victories. In electing Yeltsin as leader of Russia, it was evident he 'represented a clear choice in favour of reform and democracy, even if the presidency was not always true to such values himself' (White, 1997c, p57). There was unfair advantages heeded to both Yeltsin and Putin, and reciprocally this disadvantaged the other candidates. I am not sure that Dahl or Huntingdon would declare the elections as democracy. White asserted Russia was a 'very partial democracy: parliament had little control over the government, political parties were weak and government at a local level was sometimes based upon a criminalised Mafia' (White, 1997b, 439). The elections were conducted within the realms of a democratic liberal state, however we must consider the new constitution that substantially aided the current President. Clearly Russia is in the process of democratisation, but it cannot be regarded as a pure democracy. Over a period of time, we will be able to judge how and to what success Russia is democratising. It is a process, and the Soviet system cannot be immediately supplanted by a liberal democracy. The democratic but unequal elections of 1996 and 2000 illustrate this. ...read more.

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