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is reprecentative democracy really just a farce

With the upcoming elections to the Russian parliament (the so called doom-ah) just around the corner a lot of people in Russia are sometimes rather heatedly discussing whether or not to participate in the elections. Many believe that the results are a foregone conclusion, United Russia, the ruling party, will be once again pronounced the winner regardless of whether or not the majority of the people that do turn up at the polling stations on Dec 4 actually vote for it. If they don’t, just about everyone in Russia is sure the results will be falsified and United Russia will still be pronounced the winner.

The situation in modern day Russia is unique in that all the drawbacks of representative democracy have been laid bare here. It would appear at first sight that all the necessary institutions are in place, we’ve got a parliament and a president that is elected in a general election and yet we’ve had the exact same group of people in power for more than ten years now and they’ve managed quite successfully to remain in the Kremlin despite the economic crisis of 2008 and the devastating wild fires of 2010.

Do elections get routinely rigged in Russia? I personally don’t know, probably some of them do, however, I don’t think that they necessarily have to be in a representative democracy. Theoretically, for instance, just about anyone can run for president in Russia but in reality most people can’t for the simple reason that they don’t have enough resources to mount a successful presidential campaign. The same applies to parliamentary elections. To get to parliament you need a party but to organize a party you need resources and lots of them. Thus at the end of the day whoever has got the most cash ends up calling all the shots in a representative democracy.

And this doesn’t apply to Russia alone, it’s just that in Russia today the powers that be cannot even be bothered to make the effort to put on an air of legitimacy; their methods are crude and they hardly even try to conceal their machinations. Plus in general the ordinary people in Russia tend to be a bit less gullible than in some other places about these things.

So if what we’ve been taught about representative democracy is a hopelessly idealized model that doesn’t really work in reality, sort of like perfect competition with every decision maker having access to all the information about the market, why do the ruling elites in the world’s most successful countries even bother with this charade. After all, even in the US when push came to shove in the 2000 election, it was the supreme court and not the voters that decided who was going to be the president.

My theory is that enlightened ruling elites use the institutions of representative democracy as a means to gauge the public mood and aspirations. History teaches us that if the ruling elites completely lose touch with the masses things will often get completely out of hand with the masses storming the posh houses and palaces of their rulers and stringing them up on lamp posts or doing some other nasty things to them. The last such major showdown was in Romania where the Ceuacescus were essentially summarily executed after a failed attempt to escape Romania. Before that a similar fate befell the Romanov family in Russia. Imho, the failure of both regimes stemmed from total loss of touch their their people and that’s where representative democracy comes into play.

Its goal is not to empower people to rule themselves but rather to provide the ruling elites with a safety valve and a way to monitor what’s going on in the general population.  However, in Russia, it would appear that our representative democracy is failing miserably in this mission. The prudent course of action at this stage, imho, would be to ditch the Putin-Medvedev tandem as well as the United Russia party and bring to power someone new. If Putin actually remains in power in Russia things might eventually spin out of control, possibly even by 2017.

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