Russians take major step away from democracy
Russians will vote tomorrow in parliamentary elections that are likely to result in a one-party chamber in support of President Putin.
MANEUVERING around Sunday's elections in Russia confirms that any hope it will become a U.S. partner in democracy is unrealistic. That possibility was dashed when Boris Yeltsin picked Vladimir Putin as his successor as president eight years ago. Putin's determination to continue as the country's leader past his two-term limit signals the completion of Russia's return to its autocratic tradition.
That does not mean resumption of the Cold War is imminent. It means only that the United States should treat Russia as it does other repressive regimes but with realization that it might return to the world stage as a major power.
Tomorrow's elections for the State Duma, Russia's powerful lower house, are designed to keep Putin in power. Under Putin, the Kremlin has taken over all the country's television networks. He used them Thursday to urge continuation of "the direction of our movement toward success" and avoid the "humiliation, dependency and disintegration" of the 1990s, when Yeltsin tried to install democracy. In fact, surging prices of Russian oil exports have led to an economic rebound, overshadowing increasingly repressive policies.
Putin, former head of the KGB's successor agency, has stated that if Russia maintains a robust military, "we will not allow anyone to poke their snotty nose into our affairs." Yesterday, Putin signed a law suspending Russia's participation in the 1990 arms control treaty with NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.
Putin's method of retaining control could mean resigning after the balloting and running for a third term as president in March. By another scenario, the Putin- controlled parliament could amend the constitution to delete the two-consecutive-term limit or simply give Putin more power under any other job title.
The Kremlin has interrupted opposition rallies in the past week, jailing former chess champion Garry Kasparov, a presidential candidate, for five days and detaining former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a Western-supportive presidential candidate.
The government has changed the election laws to assure a one-party state. Any of the 11 parties now must have at least 7 percent of the vote to win seats in the parliament, while most parliamentary countries, such as Germany, have a 5 percent threshold. Tomorrow's election should turn the Duma into an entirely one-party house.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe gave up its election-monitoring plans after Russian officials threatened to limit the mission to 70 people, down from 400 in the 2003 parliamentary elections. The officials earlier had delayed issuing visas to the monitors.