I once heard a Team Russia fanatic from Britain dismiss the difference between British and Russian democracy by claiming that British elections are totally predictable. Well yes, perhaps with thorough research and good polling they are, but they are predictable for entirely different reasons than Russian elections. Russian elections are predictable because it is a corrupt system that carefully restricts who can run and where power is merely handed back and forth between two men at the top. British elections, like many others in functioning liberal democratic states, are predictable because there is this thing called rule of law. Allow me to explain.
This is the litmus test, and to do it I’m going to use the worst, most backward form of liberal democracy in the industrialized world, that being the electoral system of the United States. I haven’t been following US politics very closely and therefore cannot make predictions about the election in 2016. I’m pretty sure Hillary will get her party’s nomination, and I have no doubt this will be largely due to her and her husband’s connections and influence within the Democratic party. The Republicans will most likely put forth some flag-waving, Bible-thumping moron, and while I cannot predict his name I can tell you his campaign will consist of calling for lower taxes, claiming that Americans who want to start small businesses are unable to due to high taxes, and in between he will throw in all the buzzwords about family values, freedom of religion, and of course, personal responsibility.
We will all have to suffer through every minute of the campaign season, as the media relentlessly informs us of every single “gaffe” each candidate makes. Then in November the polls will open up, people will vote, and according to our backward and intentionally less democratic system, the person with the most electoral votes will become president the following January. I don’t know who that person will be, but I know how they will get to the White House.
Now here’s the test- When will Putin leave the presidency? How will he leave? Who will come after him? Nobody in Russia has a clue. Many analysts have their predictions but none of them can say for sure. What is clear is that Putin cannot go abroad, as he is surely wont to do if the life choices of his two daughters are any indication. He also cannot enjoy the many houses he has had built in Russia as a private citizen. If he does not retain control over the country’s military, police, and intelligence organs, he would be vulnerable. He knows that anyone taking power after him could potentially use him as a scapegoat and have him arrested on charges. The only way to prevent that is to remain in control of the state’s organs of force. So while he might hand off power to his most trusted associate once more, he will still have to retain the office of the prime minister.
So there you have it. The litmus test of democracy. As much as American democracy sucks, I know what will happen in the years prior to 2016, I know how the next president will be elected, and then I know that president will serve four to eight years depending on whether or not they get reelected. In Russia, you can keep claiming that Putin is popular and people want him, but the fact is that nobody can explain how he will leave office, when, or what comes next. Many of his staunchest advocates assure us that chaos and collapse would follow the loss of a Putin presidency. Really? Why would that happen? Seems like a function democracy would be able to go from candidate to candidate without collapsing into ruin. Furthermore, one could easily argue that the reason why many Russians “support” Putin is simply because they are aware of how helpless they are. In fact many, including among his supporters, flat out admit that they are afraid of what comes next. Why would you be afraid? We have shitty presidents in the US all the time, but at the end of the day you know the maximum they will ever serve is eight years before they get replaced by some other dipshit in a suit.
Russia fails the litmus test of democracy. When you’re an industrial country and you make the American democratic system look amazing by comparison, you have truly fucked up. And yes, I personally don’t consider any existing country to be truly democratic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a black and white system where you’re either democratic or not. Some people point to China as a successful state without a liberal democratic system. Yeah well the key word is successful. China in 20 years has got results which Russia can’t even hope to match at this rate. Moreover, there is a lot more accountability in China when someone is busted for corruption, and from the look of it China has more spontaneous, organic protest movements, i.e. civil society. Whatever we call the Russian system, it is neither democratic, nor does it get results.