Putin’s edifice of “controlled” democracy is now almost complete.
Autonomy of key segments of the elite (local governors and “oligarchs”)
has been curbed significantly. Political control over influential
media has been re-established. Centralization of the party
system begins to change the role of political parties. The state now
civil society by using the instrument of the Civic Chamber.
institutions exist and function, but the Kremlin holds them on a
tight leash. Opposition in the Duma is demoralized.
The lower chamber of parliament has been transformed into an
obliging mechanism of voting for the president's legislative
initiatives. The upper chamber of parliament – the Federation
Council – has been bent to the president’s will without putting up
any serious resistance. With the governors sent back to mind their
provinces and replaced by compliant bureaucrats, the formerly
independent assembly of ambitious regional princes has been
transformed into just another mechanism of giving approval to
It would be
misleading, however, to dwell only on the “controlled” aspect of
Putin’s regime. In contrast to Yeltsin’s “manipulated” democracy,
which often mocked the very notion of democratic politics, Putin’s
version of democracy retains significant and real democratic
substance. During his first term in office he has been able to
expand his political base beyond his initial circle of governors,
military generals, and security officials to include the
center-right, the nationalists, and some elements of the Communist
electorate. He has consistently scored an unbelievable 70 to 75
percent approval rating in public opinion polls.
base of support is unique and is unlike that of any other leading
politician in Russia: his supporters can be found in almost equal
numbers in all sociodemographic categories – among men and women,
the young and the old, better and less educated, urban dwellers and
villagers, and so on. In other words, Putin’s electorate is
comprised of a remarkably representative cross section of the