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Friday, December 7, 2007

Russian Elections

Dec 4, 2007
Russia does itself a favour
RUSSIA was the big winner in the weekend's parliamentary election for the Duma. In voting strongly for President Vladimir Putin's party, the Russian people endorsed foremost the healing effects that the regional stability and the economic gains of the past few years are having on the national spirit. The nation that was parodied prematurely in some Western capitals as a spent force, after the reversals of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin years, will come out the stronger. Its influence as a balancing force in international affairs will grow with its new-found prestige. Incomplete results gave Mr Putin's party, United Russia, and its allies some 85 per cent of the Duma's 450 seats. The ballot was billed as a referendum on Mr Putin's policies, which it was, and more. Mr Putin has through no-nonsense rule disciplined polarising tendencies and made good use of the prosperity brought by high energy prices to revive living standards. Russia has recorded average growth rates of 7 per cent during his presidency. The stock market is buoyant, consumerism has returned. The health and longevity of Russians laid low by rampant alcoholism in the post-Soviet adjustment era have improved.
The United States and pockets of ex-Warsaw Pact resentments in the European Union are unhappy that a man they regard as an autocrat, the destroyer of nascent democratic institutions begun by Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, has been retained by the voters to be the country's eminence grise after his presidential term ends in March. These critics, especially in America, have fanciful ideas of what they think Russians should want. The voters are smarter, all glory to them. Mr Gorbachev himself said in interviews that, outside Russia, Western rose-tinted opinion saw 1990s Russia as a beacon of democratic renewal whereas, for Russians, this was a time of political turmoil and personal hardship. He thinks the US capitalised on Russia's frailities of that period and is now demonising the new Russia, and Mr Putin personally, because they challenge America's notion of supremacy.

An important outcome of the Duma vote is that Russia regains its old status as one pillar in a world grown multipolar. This will be welcomed, not least in East Asia and Latin America. A revealing postcript to the election is that the United Russia party scored big majorities in the Muslim republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya. Mr Putin does not waffle and he carries a big stick. He has proved that his prescriptions have brought results for all of Russia, across its 22 time zones. What position he will hold after he completes the maximum two terms matters little, in the circumstances.

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