The Electoral Authoritarianism In Russia

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Although strides towards democracy have been made since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still falters on fundamental ideas to fully classify the country as a democracy. With United Russia, Russia’s largest political party, having an overwhelming majority in both the legislative and executive branch, serious contestation is nearly nonexistent. Russian elections lack this vital component of democracy by not having other parties large or strong enough to compete with United Russia; it is almost certain in every election that United Russia will maintain if not expand its power. Vladimir Putin is serving his 4th nonconsecutive term as President of Russia, winning the most recent election receiving the majority of the popular vote with no serious opponent. With United Russia and President Vladimir Putin having coercive ownership and control of the media and the government, in addition to the despairing inequality, unspoken limits on civil liberties, and the lack of contestation collectively make Russia a Hegemonic Electoral Regime.

Hegemonic Electoral Regimes manipulate democratic processes to remain in power essentially presenting a façade of being fairly elected by a vast majority through a democratic election. These regimes effectively control who can run for office effortlessly limiting opposition so the majority party may remain in control. This contradicts one of Dahl’s principles for democracy: contestation. According to Dahl, for a country to be labeled a democracy contestation and participation much coexist. Contestation, regarding democracy, is the ability to form near equal opponents concerning political parties or candidates that must rally and respond to the support and desires of the people.

Without contestation, political parties can grow especially strong and can completely run the government, therefore becoming unrepresentative. Concerning Participation, Dahl is referring to who is and is not allowed to vote and be politically active. With restrictions on participation, it is simple for governmental institutions to become unrepresentative of the parties not allowed to participate. Przeworski et al have a slightly different conceptualization of contestation. Przeworski et al believe that for contestation to exist there must be ambiguity regarding who might win the election, no means of reversing a nonfraudulent election, in addition to being able to repeat the process.

Regarding elections, if there is uncertainty concerning the outcome of an election that means that the election was highly contested and as a result promotes democratic ideals. Such is not the case for Mother Russia. If a country is able to reverse the results of a democratic election, they are able to completely disregard the wants of the people and simply push their agenda and put a candidate in office for their party’s success. Russia’s level of democracy would lie relatively close to the middle of being between a democracy and a dictatorship, although leaning closer to a dictatorship. Russia holds elections for its chief executive and its legislature; although, United Russia is far from being contested. In the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s legislature, 343 out of 450 seats are occupied by United Russia representatives and being more than 2/3 of the Duma means that United Russia alone can amend the country’s constitution. United Russia has solely amended government documents such as extending presidential terms from four to six years, which allowed Putin to rerun for president, along with changing other various election laws. A United Russia controlled Kremlin has changed the month an election would take place to give their party an advantage, in addition to other nondemocratic actions to ensure their party would succeed.

With a 67. 5% voter turnout, concerning the most recent Russian Presidential election, Putin received 76. 65% of the votes with the next highest at 11. 81%. The competition between parties and leaders are not remotely close. This presidential victory for Putin will have him serving as President of Russia until 2024 and will be interesting to see if he will further break the term limit constraints in Russia. According to Freedom House, Putin and the United Russia controlled Kremlin alone picked out his opponents for president (2018). A government and presidential candidate that picks out his competition for the race embodies no democratic ideals. Putin was merely setting himself up for success and no competition. For the most recent Russian presidential election, “a Russian court on Wednesday effectively derailed a presidential run by Aleksei A. Navalny — the only opposition candidate with a broad, enthusiastic popular following — by reviving a four-year-old criminal conviction”.

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President Putin and United Russia have no real opposition when it comes to running for any office of the Russian government. Russia does not fit the significant ideals from Dahl and Przeworski et al in regards to contestation. Russian citizens submit to quasi-voluntary compliance by partially submitting to their government willingly and in part by coercive power or threat. Protests oriented against President Putin result in an extreme use of force by law enforcement and many arrests leading to lengthy sentencing, although the majority of Russian approve of him. As stated earlier, President Putin controls the media creating himself a successful propaganda machine. Through the ownership of media outlets and Russian companies, he is able to directly influence the media into producing stories he wants or approves of. In addition, the Russian constitution contains, “vague laws on extremism [that] grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support”, which was how they were able to deem Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremists and ban their religion. The people of Russia are being fed only information their United Russia owed government approves of, eliminating values of democracy and of Dahl. Dahl includes eight intuitional guarantees that should be apparent in democracies, one being transparent media or a variety of sources for media (1971).

Russia does not exemplify democracy on many instances in Dahl’s conceptualization. Polity IV, an organization that analyzes countries’ levels of democracy, classifies Russia as an anocracy, a government that is mixed with the ideas of a democracy and a dictatorship, leaning more towards democracy. Polity IV bases their analysis of democracy on autocratic backsliding, executive auto-coup, state failure and strength of military. Russia government suffers from electoral authoritarianism, therefore, failing Polity IV’s autocratic backsliding assessment, along with falling into the category of an executive auto-coup. Russia undermines central democratic ideals to keep main political powers in power while appearing as though they have done so through democratic processes.

Freedom House, another organization that analyzes democracy levels of countries, deems Russian citizens and Russian media not free. Freedom House bases their analysis on many ideals described in Dahl’s and Przeworski et al’s conceptualizations of democracy. How their leaders are elected, civil liberties, political rights, and level of autonomy are just a few measures on how they base their analysis of democracy for various countries. They rate Russians with very little freedom politically and socially because of how the Russian government controls their citizens’ actions, their access to media, how their leaders are elected, and the amount of political corruption flourishing in Russia. Russia is a Hegemonic Electoral Regime due to many factors, one of the largest being contestation. As stated earlier, United Russia is unparallel in the strength and control they possess in their legislature. They have a 2/3 majority giving them the sole power to change the Russian constitution at will. President Putin was elected with a ¾ majority winning the presidential election in a complete landslide. Any opposition that poses a threat is eradicated as seen with Aleksei A. Navalny.

United Russia and Vladimir Putin sweep elections with overwhelming majorities making other Russian parties powerless and making the Russian government unrepresentative. On the surface, Russia fits Przeworski et al’s conceptualization of democracy. Russia holds elections for their heads of state and for their legislature. There is more than one political party present in Russia and in the Duma. All these ideas from Przeworski et al partially fit for Russia, but just because a country holds an election does not mean they are democratic; Russian elections are accused of ballot stuffing and unspoken amounts of government influence. Russia also partially exemplifies many ideas from Dahl’s eight intuitional guarantees, but that also should not mean Russia is a democracy. Russians have the freedom to organize, but only if it supports the Kremlin and President Putin, otherwise violence and arrests are inevitable.

Russians have the right to vote, but parties opposing United Russia are at extreme disadvantages. Russians have access to media, but the sources are limited and controlled by the government or state-owned companies. Russians averaged a larger voter participation in their last election than in the United States 2016 general election, but it was clear who was going to win the Russian election, whereas November 9th, 2016 millions of Americans woke up in shock with a loss of words to their future reality. Russia does hold some democratic ideals, but they are far and few between. The democratic ideals that they do hold are usually corrupted by an extreme government or party power. The media and their liberties are controlled, leaving Russians to blindly follow their United Russia owned Kremlin and unchecked power of their president. Russia is a hegemonic electoral regime with United Russia’s extreme political victories along with the government influence and control in Russians daily lives.

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