Russia's "free" elections

On the left

In another couple months it will be election season again, when the quiet states of New Hampshire and Iowa float up out of obscurity to center themselves in the national spotlight. Yet the most interesting action so far is thousands of miles away, in the broad lands of Russia, where pro-Putinites pressure voters to take the line of United Russia. So far United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party loyal to Vladimir Putin, is leading Duma (Russia's lower house) election polls by a large margin, according to recent reports, taking in nearly 37 percent of votes. If the party continues to hold strong in the polls, Putin will gain power in the lower house, making it easier for him to pass legislation and even to alter Russia's constitution to allow for a third term. ÿ

Despite Russia's considerable economic growth and steps toward democracy, many fear he is heading in the wrong direction. United Russia is expected to win and does not have any serious competition so far, which means that Putin will be able to secure more power when his party gains more seats in the Duma. Some citizens of the country, which has a long history of autocratic rule, are wary of Putin's power and don't want him to get too greedy. Although United Russia has poured itself into opposing the Communist party, which isn't very strong right now, it is doing so in part by unrelenting state-run television campaigns - eerily reminiscent of state-run Communist propaganda. Of course Putin is not an autocrat, but there have been recent allegations of voting violations - and they have not been brought solely by the Communist party. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an important watchdog force based in Vienna, has also expressed concern over possible rules infringements in the Duma elections. ÿ

Just before the elections, 42 people died from a bombing in Chechnya. Putin is, of course, claiming that the incident was meant to disrupt the elections - and he could be correct. However, Chechnya will become even more of a turbulent hotbed if United Russia captures the elections, as Putin will procure more power with which to suppress its citizens. With election time just around the corner in the U.S., one would hope that elections here will not be as fraught with controversy as they have been recently in Russia. After the election debacle of 2000, when Florida and its leaders became a continuous and dread-tinged joke, one would hope that the outcome of the presidential election of 2004 will be something resembling democracy. I haven't seen any state-run Bush ads yet, and the U.S. fortunately does not have a history of autocratic rule, but election tampering has an enormous effect on how the country is run and on every constituent living in the country. ÿ

Who knows - if Bush is elected (for the first time) in 2004, government detention and harassment might eventually extend to more U.S. citizens - in addition to those who look Middle Eastern or Arab. Bush may gain additional, extra-Constitutional powers just as Putin may if United Russia is victorious. Far too many regulations are questionable here already - primarily the USA PATRIOT Act and its derivatives - and U.S. citizens will only lose more personal freedom if Bush tightens his poison leash upon the nation. This country has displayed a mockery of democracy, a doppelganger of egalitarian ideals, and a devilish dose of double-faced deception for the last three years, and hopefully it won't carry over into the national election next November. Perhaps more people would vote if they thought it mattered; voter turnout has decreased in Russia since the 1999 Duma elections, and it has been abysmally low in the U.S. for some time.

If next year's election is not marred by varied and outdated voting systems across the country and by a state where Bush's brother just happened to be the governor in 2000, people will be inclined to have a little more faith in the system and to venture out of their homes to wend their way to the voting booths. I'm not holding my breath for such a restoration, but it would go a little way in convincing me that the U.S. is not heading down the path of state-run campaigning for the incumbent power, and that people's votes will not be manipulated at the last minute by shady politicos of murky merit. Right now I'm just hoping that the iron fist of Republicans like AU's Dave Hodges won't strike like a molten hammer on the unprotected head of this nation and, perhaps, on the head of this columnist.

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