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  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons

RUSSIA’S ELECTION – DEMOCRACY AT THE CROSSROADS


2024 is expected to be a record election year with fifty percent of the world’s populations heading to the polls. It has kicked off with a bang, with Russia having a record-high voter turnout, topping 74% with Vladimir Putin securing 87% of the vote.




The reaction across Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the election results reveals a new global dynamic. Although a majority of countries supported a UN resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that two thirds of the world’s population live in countries that are either pro-Russia or neutral.


Reactions among the Rest


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) cabled congratulations to Putin, followed by a congratulatory call to Putin from MBS in which “He highlighted the strong relationship between the two countries and explored avenues for further cooperation.” 


Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries also extended greetings and best wishes to Putin on his re-election victory. 


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent warm congratulations to Putin on his re-election as President of the Russian Federation saying that India “Looked forward to working together to further strengthen the time-tested Special & Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia in the years to come”.


Western leaders have been rolling out the red carpet for Modi despite his government being widely criticised for allegedly overseeing a period of “democratic backsliding” and “growing authoritarianism”. Much the same might also be said about the West’s outreach to Saudi Arabia.


China’s President Xi Jinping was quick to congratulate Putin on his victory saying that Beijing would continue to promote the “no limits” partnership which China had forged with Moscow well before Russia invaded Ukraine. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “We firmly believe that under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Putin, China-Russia relations will continue to move forward. China and Russia are each other’s largest neighbours and comprehensive strategic partners in the new era.” 


Venezuela’s leader, Nicolas Maduro spoke of Putin’s triumph boding well for the world while Cuba’s President called the results “A credible indication that the Russian population supports Putin’s management of the country.”


Reaction in the West


Even before the votes had been counted following the Russian elections, the results were condemned in the West as neither free nor fair. According to British Foreign Minister David Cameron, the elections underlined the “depth of repression” in Russia while the US State Department complained that they were “incredibly undemocratic”. With all due respect to western sensitivities those views were held even before the polls opened, let alone the counting of votes.


Russia’s Response


Russia’s record-high voter turnout easily exceeded the 2018 figure of 67%. For his part Putin said that the US had become a “global laughingstock” by criticising democratic processes in other nations while suppressing a presidential candidate (Trump) in its own election year. Putin added, “I think it’s obvious to everyone that the American political system cannot claim to be democratic in any sense of the word!”


Eighty eight percent of Russians voted in the Russian election, a much higher turnout than in any Western democracy (except where voting is compulsory). The Russian people may not have had much choice of candidate but they did have a choice of whether to vote or not and the massive turnout was consistent with Putin’s 85% approval rating, according to independent polling.


The Current State of War


Most European leaders recognise (even if they don’t admit) that the Russians are winning the war in Ukraine and that Ukraine is collapsing. The Ukrainian army is rapidly reaching the point where it and the Ukrainian people will have to decide if staying in the war is in the national interest or if they can even hope to survive if they continue fighting.  


The cynical sacrifice of half a million Ukrainians, used as cannon fodder and the physical destruction of Ukraine was expected and intended to weaken and marginalise Russia but that has been a failure. It is painful to recall that in 2022, Senator Lindsey Graham said that the mission was to “use Ukraine to fight to the last person”. California representative, Adam Schiff said “The US aids Ukraine and her people so that we [the US] can fight Russia over there and we don’t have to fight Russia here.” Congressmen Dan Crenshaw tweeted that “Investing in the destruction of our adversary’s military, without losing a single American troop, strikes me as a good idea.”


Today, Russia appears to be stronger on every dimension. Despite sanctions, its economy is more robust than most Western economies and its military has proved to be strong. Russia has won the sympathies of almost the entire world, outside the collective West.


Nevertheless, current messaging in the West appears to be that NATO remains determined to win at any cost, and little if anything is said about a possible negotiated solution to the conflict, perhaps because that outcome would potentially be followed by normalisation of economic relations with Western Europe. Russia would emerge triumphant while the impact on America’s world standing would be devastating.


Bernie Sanders has called for a revolution in American foreign policy pointing out that in 2023, 62% of the US$1.8 trillion federal budget went to the military, but for every US$16 spent on the military, only US1 dollar was spent on diplomacy and international humanitarian aid. After 9/11, President George W Bush committed more than US$8 trillion to the “global war on terror” which contributed to a death toll of 4.5 million people. During two decades of fighting in Afghanistan, the US caused hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilian casualties.


Not satisfied with its involvement in wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, the US is today goading China into a potentially devastating (possibly nuclear) war, potentially replicating the Ukraine scenario in Taiwan.


Taiwan will be watching closely!


Democracy in Decline


The view which has taken hold in the West is that nations which do not pursue “democracy” are “evil” and much of the reaction in the West is based on “ideological hostility”, as is the so-called “China threat”.


However, Freedom House reports that democracy has been in decline for the past 18 years with this being most evident in the West.  Rand Corporation reports that Asia is the only place in the world where democracy scores have actually improved.


There is a growing recognition that economic development is an essential factor in building and sustaining democracy. In that regard, the Asia-Pacific region has been and remains the best performing region in the world while the West is experiencing both political and economic decline.


ASEAN


The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has an aggregate population of about 700 million. Each ASEAN nation has its own form of government:  Myanmar has a military government; Indonesia a multiparty Republic; Singapore is a “Semi-democracy” with its leaders being selected on merit; Thailand is a Constitutional Monarchy; Philippines a Democratic Constitutional Republic; Cambodia is a de facto One-party State; Malaysia is a Constitutional Elective Monarchy; Vietnam is a Unitary Marxist-Leninist One-party Socialist Republic; Brunei is an absolute monarchy where the Sultan is both head of state and head of government; Laos is a One-party Socialist Communist State. These ten nations put aside their ideological differences and live in harmony, enjoying rapidly growing and successful economies.


According to Stephen Walt of Harvard University, the best way to sell democracy is to show that democratic societies outperform autocratic alternatives by delivering their citizens a more prosperous, secure, and satisfying life, but according to Walt, the US is in no position to lead this argument. Even before Donald Trump was elected president, The Economist Intelligence Unit had downgraded the US to the status of a “flawed democracy”.


The bottom line is that effective governance is not the exclusive domain of democratic government. It is high time for the West to accept the growing interdependence of both liberal and non-liberal states in an emerging multipolar world. That may be the only way to avoid descent into World War III.

 

“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!

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