Why Does Russia Hold Elections?

Anne Applebaum asks and answers an important question about the process by which Dmitry Medvedev was easily “elected” president of Russia but in which all the plausible opposition parties were ruled ineligible.

Why did anyone bother holding an election at all? Given that the inner circle of ex-KGB officers that controls the Kremlin also controls the country’s media, its legal system, its parliament, and its major companies, why do they need elections? Why didn’t Vladimir Putin just appoint Medvedev, or keep the presidency himself? The answer, I think, can lie only in the ruling clique’s fundamental insecurity, odd as that sounds. Though the denizens of the Kremlin do not, cannot, seriously fear Western military attack, they do still seem to fear Western-inspired popular discontent: public questioning of their personal wealth, public opposition to their power, political demonstrations of the sort that created the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. To stave off these things, they maintain the democratic rituals that give them a semblance of legitimacy.

Indeed, they maintained this pretense even in the days of the Soviet Union, when candidates were elected with 99.99 percent approval with 99 percent turnout.

It’s noteworthy that, by all indications, Putin and Medvedev are genuinely popular and it’s widely presumed that they would have won in open, fair elections. That we’ll never know, however, is a shame.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.