In Russia’s parliamentary election on Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s party won three-quarters of the seats outright in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, and the rest indirectly, through parties loyal to him. It apparently did so without many voting irregularities, and despite a sluggish economy, sanctions imposed by the West and unrest in some quarters over the government’s crackdown on civil liberties. What gives? What gives is the sorry degree to which Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have consolidated full control over Russian politics. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia appears to have returned full circle to a pseudo-parliament whose only function is to give a semblance of legitimacy to an authoritarian ruler. The post-Soviet Russian Constitution already granted more powers to the president and cabinet than to the legislature, but at least the Duma was a platform for the opposition to question and criticize Kremlin policies. Now even this function is effectively gone.
It’s true that after almost 17 years in power as president or prime minister, Mr. Putin enjoys an astounding approval rating hovering around 80 percent — founded in part on his demagogic claims to be standing up to a United States that he accuses of engineering all Russia’s woes and thus restoring Russia’s imperial greatness.
Yet the larger truth is that Mr. Putin’s political opponents have been systematically imprisoned, driven into exile, harassed, intimidated and sometimes — as in the case of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — killed. Sadly, the few opposition candidates who did run seemed incapable of uniting into a cohesive block, but they also got no television time, their donors were scared off and their campaigns were dogged by hecklers and provocateurs.
Full Article: Behind Mr. Putin’s Easy Victory – The New York Times.