Vladimir Putin

Democracy means more than a majority vote

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2007, 12:00am

There are many forms of democracy, but no matter what the version, there are basic principles that must be followed. Russian President Vladimir Putin has eroded one of the most fundamental of these - the need for a viable political opposition - in his push for victory for his United Russia party in weekend parliamentary elections.

Mr Putin's popularity was clearly shown in the poll. Putting himself at the head of the party ticket and casting the election as a vote of support for his presidency, the more than 60 per cent backing garnered by United Russia gave him what he wanted. Voters had good reason to oblige the president. Russia's economy is booming and government coffers are fat. Mr Putin, they perceive, is the truest of nationalists.

Russians have had their say, as democracy promises. But they have also given Mr Putin sweeping authority to further change the political goalposts in the three months before he has to stand down. So far, he has eliminated or clipped the wings of opponents. The election results clearly showed this: there will be just four parties in the new parliament, dominated by United Russia and two small pro-Kremlin groups. The opposition is represented by the communists, with little more than double-digit support from the electorate.

There were numerous electoral rule changes. Parties needed at least 7 per cent of the vote to enter parliament, up from 5 per cent. Minimum turnouts were scrapped. Constituency voting was abolished. Several opposition parties were not allowed to participate.

The dominant state-run media favoured United Russia. Government workers and students were told to vote for the party. Only 400 independent election monitors were allowed to observe the vote at 95,784 polling stations across the world's biggest country.

The election has increased Mr Putin's influence. Whatever he decides, though, he must keep in mind the value of democracy. While the basis of democracy is to allow people to govern themselves, it is also to ensure checks and balances and equity for all in society. This cannot happen when excessive power is held by one person and the opposition has been muted or silenced.