WORLD

ONE-PARTY STATE?

Putin’s chokehold on power is destroying any hope for democracy

NANCY MACDONALD December 10 2007
WORLD

ONE-PARTY STATE?

Putin’s chokehold on power is destroying any hope for democracy

NANCY MACDONALD December 10 2007

ONE-PARTY STATE?

Putin’s chokehold on power is destroying any hope for democracy

WORLD

NANCY MACDONALD

It seems that Britain’s Most Wanted Man, ex-KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi, is on the run—for a seat in the Russian Duma. The millionaire Muscovite, prime suspect in the notorious murder of Kremlin-critic Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, is a candidate with the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democrats in the country’s national election on Dec. 2. Lugovoi is seeking stature, credibility—and an MP’s immunity from prosecution. But to some, his candidacy is evidence of the absurdity of an election that Mike McFaul, a Russia expert at Stanford University, simply calls “a tragedy.”

In Russia, Lugovoi has become something of a “folk hero” as a symbol of resistance to the bullying West, says Steve LeVine, the Dallas-based author of The Oil and the Glory, about the struggle for Caspian oil resources. There, common opinion holds that Lugovoi and Russia are innocents, inappropriately accused and victimized. (Scotland Yard is adamant that it was Lugovoi who slipped Litvinenko a dose of radioactive polonium210; it also suspects he did so on orders from the Russian secret service.) “Lugovoi’s candidacy shows how strong the anti-Western and Russian nationalistic rhetoric has grown,”

says University of British Columbia political scientist Lisa Sundstrom.

Today, calls for greater transparency and democracy from the international community are labelled anti-Russian—reminiscent of Soviet-era rhetoric, says UBC Russia expert Anne Gorsuch. And the squeeze President Vladimir Putin has been putting on Russian democrats has become a chokehold. He’s even arrested members of Other Russia, an opposition movement led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Putin’s United Russia, polling at over 65 per cent, will surely win a landslide victory. In fact, polls suggest that only two parties are guaranteed seats in the new Duma: United Russia and the Communists, likely to win around 14 per cent of the vote. Two other parties are hovering just below the seven per cent hurdle to win seats: Lugovoi’s Liberal Democrats, led by the charismatic yet buffoonish Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Fair Russia, a fake social democrat-style party created by the Kremlin; it supports the president.

By destroying the opposition Putin—barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term as president—has undermined the possibility of real reform, moving Russia in the direction of a one-party state. “It’s become an autocracy,” says McFaul, sighing deeply, “a word that nobody wants to use.” Indeed, the big question in Russia is not whether Putin will hold onto power after March’s presidential election, but how. M