Small Democratic Step

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For the last eight years of Vladimir Putin's presidency, friends of mine who either worked
for or were simply sympathetic to the Kremlin have argued at various times that Russia
was a "managed" democracy, a "sovereign" democracy or an autocracy like China on the
long road to democracy via the autocratic-modernizer path. Western observers of Russian
internal developments, including the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have
echoed this third argument, emphasizing that Russia's transition from communism to
democracy would be a long one but that it is nonetheless under way.
My response has been twofold. First, these "special" forms of democracy are just
camouflage for anti-democratic actions. To be sure, there are many forms of democratic
rule around the world, and the U.S. system, incidentally, is by no means the most
democratic form of government. But all democracies share a few fundamental features,
including first and foremost competition in elections for national office and some
institutional constraints on those in elected office. By these simple measures, Russia is
clearly less democratic today than at the beginning of Putin's time in office.
democracy would be a long one but that it is nonetheless under way.

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