Jade McGlynn

Is Russia ready for life after Putin?

When Russians headed to the polls last week, the Duma election results were never in doubt: Putin’s United Russia party won two-thirds of the seats, while the rest went to the tame ‘systemic opposition’. But even if the outcome wasn’t a surprise, the manner of Putin’s victory should ring alarm bells about what happens in Russia when he eventually departs.

The Kremlin ‘won’ the Duma elections insofar as United Russia received the number of seats it wanted. It did this on just 50 per cent of the vote, down on previous elections, with widespread violations, and at the cost of what little credibility the electoral process still enjoyed.

In regimes like Russia, elections are not for the people, but for the autocrats. The authorities turn any election into a vote for something, rather than a choice from among several options. But even the semblance of reality and unpredictability with which Russian elections under Putin were once carried out is no more. The pretence of democracy has all but disappeared.

Egregious ballot stuffing, a crackdown on opposition candidates, and a litany of dirty tricks deployed against the Navalny movement’s smart voting campaign – which told voters which candidate had the best chance of beating the United Russia candidate – were all features of this election.

Many Russians, young or old, do not see the West as worthy of emulation

Putin’s continued crackdown on the Navalny movement is nothing new. But by crushing his opponents – and political life more generally – so thoroughly it makes it difficult to see how any transition of Putin from power can happen smoothly, whenever that time does come.

Last year, the Russian government brought in a raft of constitutional amendments that allow Putin to stay in power until 2036. But these changes were also intended to pave the way for a more collective, parliamentary, system to replace him.

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