Democratic Accountability in Russia? Surely not!

Putin, Retirement Age Concessions and Popularity Ratings

This is what The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet’s entry on Russia, had to say:

“Russia is a big and important anomaly. It’s a sort of pretend democracy, but actually President Vladimir Putin has total control. In the Moscow area alone some 75,000 people are employed directly by the President to manage his state machinery. Putin has manipulated the rules and changed the Constitution to ensure that he will have been president from 2000 until 2024 (except for a spell when he was Prime Minister and someone whose name no one remembers was a kind of puppet president for the sake of appearance). His main presidential opponent is Alexei Navalny who was arrested three times in 2017 alone – the principal purpose being to ensure that he wasn’t eligible to stand against Putin in the 2018 presidential election.

The anomaly is Putin’s stunning popularity at home. In polls conducted by Gallup in 2016, 81% of Russians approved of Putin’s presidency and 87% approved of his handling of foreign policy. (Compare this with the domestic approval ratings of leaders who got themselves elected fairly – Theresa May, 34% in November 2017, now 30%; Donald Trump, 38% Jan 2018, now 40%). So, what’s the problem? Russia doesn’t have free and fair elections but if it did Putin would be elected anyway. This may be true but it’s beside the point. There can be popular governments in bad regimes, just as there can be unpopular governments in good ones. Russians may happen to like Putin, but if they ever decide they don’t, they might not be able to remove his government democratically. Given increasingly poor relations with the EU and US and sanctions holding back the Russian economy from anything like a convincing post recession recovery, it’s not impossible that they’ll have a chance to find out before 2024.”

So what’s changed?

What’s changed is Putin’s popularity ratings on the back of deeply resented new retirement age policies. Originally Putin announced that the male retirement age would rise from 60 to 65 and 55 to 63 for women but this dropped his popularity to a five-year-low  despite credit for the successful World Cup in Russia this summer. Suddenly, only 54% of Russians approved of him and would vote for him in an election. Whoah! That’s almost like a normal, properly elected leader of a real democracy! To Western eyes, these reforms may not look too draconian, but you’ve got to bear in mind that life expectancy is very low in Russia – about 66.5 years for men, so on average they would expect to get about 18 months of golf or fishing or horse riding or generally just feeling like shit and very old indeed between retirement and death, which hardly seems worth the bother.

What has happened now?

Putin has made concessions – the retirement age for women will be 60 not 63, and mothers of 3 or more children will be allowed to retire earlier; men will still retire at 65, so many won’t live long enough to enjoy a single day of it.

None of this is so important in itself. What makes it important is that is is a concession to public opinion. Theresa May had the audacity in the last UK general election, to suggest that people may have to pay more for their own care in old age and this caused such an outpouring of indignant anger from the wealthy middle class middle aged people who usually vote Conservative, that she had to abandon the idea. Likewise Putin told the Russian people that, without reform, demographic changes (a euphemism for people not dying conveniently in their coffee break at work) meant that the pension system would ‘crack and collapse’ but has now been forced into a Theresa May like retreat.

So, he’s not very popular any more and is forced into taking notice of public opinion. There is a limit, it seems to how far even Mr. Putin can manipulate elections.

Welcome to Democracy Mr. Putin, we look forward to you becoming a full member one day soon.

Putin: almost as unpopular as a democratic leader!

If you want to know more about a place than it really wants you to know, read The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet

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