Electoral Specters

There is a specter haunting Russia–the specter of colored revolution. Or so says Vladimir Putin. Clearly having no qualms about beating a dead horse, Putin told a Moscow campaign rally that shadowy Westerners are supporting oppositionists with hopes of returning Russia to the dark days of the 1990s. Here some quotes the Guardian has supplied:

“Unfortunately there are those people in our country who still slink through foreign embassies … who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people.”

“There are those confronting us, who do not want us to carry out our plans because they have … a different view of Russia. They need a weak and feeble state. They need a disorganized and disorientated society … so that they can carry out their dirty tricks behind its back.”

“They are going to take to the streets. They have learned from western experts and have received some training in neighboring [former Soviet] republics. Now they are going to start provocations here.”

On the one hand, I get the hyperbolic pontificating. Much of electoral politics is about conjuring a bogeyman in hopes to scare the public into voting for you. And inciting public panic over orange clad revolutionaries, “islamo-fascists,” immigrants, homosexuals etc works well to mobilize voters. Demonizing the Other and then linking your opposition to it is a proven political tactic.

On the other hand, I can’t help chuckle at the Putin and United Russia’s excesses. First they ensured that the OSCE pull out of monitoring the elections. Limiting the number of observers, stalling visas, and placing restrictions on observers made the OSCE cancel their plans. Now Russian Electoral Commission chief Vladimir Churov claims that OSCE’s decision was their own, or more specifically the decision of the United States, which he says controls its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR. Again more bogeymen.

Plus Churov was quick to note that while the OSCE bowed out, other election monitoring organizations didn’t. Russia’s Duma elections will be “observed” by 300 monitors from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States. That’s about 25 observers per Russian time zone.

All of this points to the Russian propensity to overstate their efforts. The truth of the matter is that Russia can be flooded with election monitors and United Russia would still win. Even if the United Russia parliamentary margin will be less that desired, “Plan Putin” still maintains hegemony over Russian politics. No opposition party in real contention seeks to radically change course. Even the Communists are acclimated themselves to Putin’s Russia.

Sure, there may be something to Kremlin’s claim that they don’t need their elections verified by anyone and that sovereignty means not succumbing to outside meddling. But what all of this rhetorical and bureaucratic maneuvering really says to me is that Russia still hasn’t learned the democratic game. First, the game requires using money and advertising not so much to pummel your opponent, but control the boundaries of political discourse. The former is well done, the latter not so much. Here they might want to sneak a peak at the American Republican Party’s play book. They are masters at it. Second, the game requires the adept use of the law to mask corruption with good legal arguments. Lawyers have a knack for making something clearly illegal appear perfectly within the boundaries of the law. Postmodern politics have made armies of lawyers much more effective than detachments of police. Lastly, the game requires challenging anyone who criticizes you to do something about it. Yes, one aspect of sovereignty is about preventing meddling. But real sovereignty is when you have the confidence and fortitude to just ignore whatever critical salvos tossed at you.

So in the end, Russia should have let the OSCE come and monitor. And when the OSCE would make the inevitable cries of foul, Russia should just shrug its shoulders and promise to better next time. That’s what any other real democracy would do.