Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to become the new, 'democratically elected' prime minister of Russia, much in the way Bashar al-Assad is the 'democratically elected' president of Syria – he's stealing the election. How? Putin simply changed election law to favor his party, changed the election system to favor his party and, when that was not enough, he cheated. Here's a summary from today's New York Times:
…“This is the first time in post-Soviet history when only the Kremlin decides who can participate and who can’t,” Mr. Ryzhkov said. “The Kremlin decides which party can exist and which party cannot. For the first time in post-Soviet history, a wide specter of political forces cannot participate in this election. I call it selection before election.”
Mr. Ryzhkov’s party, the Republican Party, one of the oldest in post-Soviet Russia, was disbanded by the government this year after it was accused of not having enough support under the new rules. Mr. Ryzhkov said his party easily met the standard but said officials ignored the evidence in a sham proceeding.…
In the last parliamentary election, in 2003, half of the 450 seats in the lower house of Parliament, called the Duma, were allocated according to geographic districts, and half were allotted based on party support. (Members of the less powerful upper house, known as the Federation Council, are appointed.)
The 2003 election was also heavily skewed in favor of United Russia, political analysts said, and the party swept to victory.
Even so, liberal and independent lawmakers were able to retain a toehold.
They won a handful of races by mounting grass-roots campaigns in geographic districts, allowing them to form one of the last bastions of opposition to Mr. Putin inside the government. Among the victors were Mr. Ryzhkov, from Siberia, and Mr. Pokhmelkin, from Perm, in the Ural Mountains region in Russia’s center.
After the election, saying that he was responding to several acts of terrorism in Russia, Mr. Putin declared that the government structure needed to be centralized to unify the country. He pushed through legislation that abolished geographic districts in parliamentary elections and did away with elections for regional governors.
In the parliamentary election on Dec. 2, Russians will vote only for parties, not for candidates. What is more, parties now need 7 percent of the national vote to gain seats in Parliament, up from 5 percent. They also need to submit proof that they have at least 50,000 members to be recognized as official parties, up from 10,000.
It now seems possible that United Russia’s advantages are so great that it will be the only party to surpass 7 percent.…
The Times doesn't mention the journalists assassinated, the pro-democracy oligarchs jailed and/or exiled, and the constant harassment of the opposition, although each of these problems has been reported widely in the recent past, including by the Times.
Russians are largely happy. Their economy is strong. There is food on store shelves and goods – including luxury goods – readily available for all to buy.
Putin capitalized on the pain Russians went through after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The reluctance of the US and other Western powers to give needed aide in part is responsible for Russia becoming a totalitarian state, rather than a true democracy.
Also responsible is the Bush Administration which was slow to react to Putin's anti-democracy moves, and the US Congress which, when under Republican control was reluctant to challenge the president on this or on any other issue.
And, yes, Chabad has blame here, too. Its 'chief rabbi' of Russia Berel Lazar time and again covered for Putin's new Stalinism as he argued Putin's case with Western leaders, especially visiting US Congressmen.
The idea behind Lazar's quisling-keit is that, as long as Jews (and, by this he means Chabad) are in Putin's good graces, what happens with larger society doesn't really matter all that much – what is good for the Jews is what's important and what's good for Chabad is what is good for the Jews.
This is a remarkably short-sighted approach. Jews have been safest and most prosperous in true Western democracies; they have suffered most and been far worse off economically in the various totalitarian systems we have lived – and often died – under.
Even in Putin's Russia, while some Jews are very rich, most – the majority – are poor or very poor. But there is a small but growing Jewish middle class made up of small business owners, professionals – and Chabad rabbis.
By Russian standards Chabad rabbis live well, firmly middle class, not poor.
But how can that be if most Russian Jews – the people these rabbis 'serve' – are poor or on the edge of poverty?
Pro-Putin oligarchs give millions of dollars to Chabad and Lazar. Those dollars support Chabad's programs – and the rabbis who run them. Those oligarchs give money based largely on Lazar's compliance with Putin's demands, because it is compliance with Putin that allows the money to flow and the oligarchs to remain free.
When the history of these days is written, the missed opportunity of the Soviet Union's collapse will certainly be front and center. Perhaps Chabad's role in this debacle will be, as well.