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The Putin Phenomenon

 

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 shapes civil society by using the instrument of the Civic Chamber. 

Vladimir Putin. Photo: kremlin.ru

Democratic 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 presidential initiatives.

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.

Putin’s social 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 Russian population.

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"Controlled" Democracy

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The Yeltsin Era
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Russian Federalism
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"Deprivatizing" the State
First and Second Dumas
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Civil Society
"Controlled" Democracy

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