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Is the West right to question Putin’s election success?


As Russia dominates the world stage and tops news agendas with a recent alleged chemical attack in the UK and support of Assad’s military regime in Syria, a Malmö University associate professor puts Putin’s electioneering and rise to power under the microscope.

Derek Hutcheson

Derek S. Hutcheson, Associate Professor of Political Science at the Department of Global Political Studies, has written the first English-language book in two decades which takes an in-depth look at the evolution of elections in Russia.

Could it be that the West has fallen foul of its own political propaganda — were indeed the recent Russian elections as corrupt as we have been led to believe? 

Parliamentary Elections in Russia A Quarter Century of Multi-Party Politics book coverIn Parliamentary Elections in Russia: A Quarter Century of Multi-Party Politics, Hutcheson explores the country’s elections since 1993.

Through the twists and turns of political reform, he combines official data, primary material and in-depth analysis to investigate the changes in the Russian political system.

Putin’s recent election win in March was won with a record-breaking margin. However, the West’s response was rather muted in regards to any congratulatory mood. Western governments’ relationships with Russia are currently at their lowest in decades, and rumblings of the election being rigged were prevalent in the media.

But Hutcheson believes that we are judging Russia’s elections to a higher standard than we judge our own.

“One of the things that Russia is often criticised for is when local officials use state resources to campaign for a particular outcome, but during the British Brexit referendum campaign, the British Government sent out a leaflet to every house in the UK saying why it believed people should vote to stay in the EU. No one particularly questioned that."

Putin’s popularity is no mystery

When Putin was first elected in 2000, Russia was in an economic crisis.  The country had recently survived a banking collapse and currency devaluation which had robbed most people of their savings. Set against this background, Hutcheson suggest the popularity of Putin over nearly two decades was not inevitable from the outset — and nor was it based only on authoritarian suppression.

“My book shows his support to be based on three pillars: stabilisation after the chaos of the 1990s, economic growth and rising living standards after a decade of decline, and the restoration of Russia’s international position in the world.  

“While few argue that Russia is a textbook example of a liberal democracy, we should not just dismiss its elections as pointless, nor Putin’s victories as illegitimate. Putin is genuinely fairly popular. It is clear why that is the case."

Putting ballot stuffing into perspective

“As for the integrity of the electoral process, allegations of malpractice tend to cluster around particular regions and the worst cases are often prosecuted internally by the electoral authorities, which in recent years has been striving to ensure more transparency. 

“For example, the TV footage of ballot stuffing was released by the Russian Central Electoral Commission (CEC) itself, which installed CCTV cameras in the majority of polling stations. Catching officials red-handed, the CEC annulled results in 14 polling stations — to give that some perspective, there were more than 96,000 in total – where there was uncertainty over the results.”

There will be a book launch on Thursday April 19, where Hutcheson will present his findings and host a Q&A session.

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Adrian Grist