The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia Vladimir Gel’man (European University at St.Petersburg / University of Helsinki) Colloquium “The New Authoritarianism: Russia and China in Comparative Perspective”, Amsterdam, November 2013 The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Russia’s political regime as the case of electoral authoritarianism • What are the major features of such a regime in the case of Russia, what are its institutional foundations and political pillars? • How did its life cycle – the emergence, development, and further decay change over time? • And which ways might it evolve in the foreseeable future? The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • The rise of “electoral authoritarianism” (Schedler, 2002) is a global phenomenon; • These regimes are based upon meaningful elections, but the essence of these elections is an uneven level playing field (prohibitively high entry barriers, unequal access of competitors to resources, abuses of power of the state apparatus, and multiple instances of electoral fraud); • Why “electoral” authoritarianism replaces “classical” forms? • (1) elections as a tool of monitoring of elites and citizens by the ruling groups (risk-aversion strategy); • (2) elections as a tool of domestic and international legitimacy of the status-quo regime; The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Why in some countries electoral authoritarian regimes survived for a long while (Mexico under PRI, Egypt before the “Arab Spring”), while others are short-lived (victims of “color revolutions”)? • Post-Soviet Russia as a “crucial case”, which might shade light on sources of strengths and/or weaknesses of electoral authoritarianism in a comparative perspective; • Scholars tend to focus on causes of failures of electoral authoritarian regimes (international linkages/leverages, strength of the state/ruling party, role of the opposition, etc.) but paid less attention to their “success stories” The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Russia (until the rise of the mass protests in 2011-2012) - a “success story” of electoral authoritarian regime? • Russia’s rulers invested tremendous efforts into building their political monopoly (hierarchical subordination of the state apparatus (“power vertical”) and the dominant party, UR); • Regime averted challenges to the status quo through high entry barriers on political market, implementation of divide-and-conquer tactics, cooptation of loyal “fellow travelers” and coercion of “non-systemic” actors; • Although the rise of protest activism in 2011-2012 did somewhat shake the previous equilibrium, there is no grounds to consider the inevitability failure of electoral authoritarianism in Russia, at least, in the short run The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Major institutional sources, which provided the basis for the status quo regime: • (1) superpresidentialism; • (2) subnational authoritarianism; • (3) dominant party • Superpresidentialism - the zero-sum nature of presidential elections (Linz, 1990) dramatically increased the cost of the incumbent’s loss, which might affect the political as well as the physical survival of the rulers and their entourage: additional incentives to hold power at any cost • Russia’s temptation to abolish presidential elections (1996) and risk of open elite conflict during “the war of the Yeltsin succession” (1999) – never again! The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Lessons learned from the 1990s: • (1) cooptation of local “political machines”, controlled by regional governors and city mayors, into a nation-wide Kremlin-driven “echelon” – centralization of sub-national authoritarianism; • (2) reformatting of the party system into a highly controlled manipulative hierarchy under the dominance of UR; • These institutional sources as such cannot make the status quo regime more attractive in the eyes of elites and the population at large, but they diminished the attractiveness and/or availability of alternatives to the status quo - a “resigned acceptance” effect (Rose et al., 2004) The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • “authoritarian equilibrium rests mainly on lies, fear, or economic prosperity” (Przeworski, 1991: 58): • Economic growth of the 2000s contributed to a high level of popular support of Russia’s rulers (Rose et al., 2011; Treisman, 2011); • But the nature of the regime’s popular support was specific rather than diffuse (Easton, 1975); Russian citizens endorsed regime as long as it provided them with material benefits but not because of mass beliefs in its legitimacy – risks of political disequilibrium due to the “dilemma of performance” (Huntington, 1991) The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Fears of excessively high costs of political disequilibrium among various social groups (especially after the traumatic experience of turbulent reforms of the 1990s) contributed to the preservation of the status quo; • “Communist manifesto”: “proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains: they have a world to win” - Russian citizens have something to lose in the case of regime change, the chains were not so heavy binding, while winning after disequilibrium was not so obvious (Ryzhenkov, 2011: 101) The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Lies – the most visible element of Russia’s regime because of the monopolist control over major information channels, manipulative “virtual politics” (Wilson A., 2005), a wide range of propagandist techniques, etc.; • Many voters evaluated the 2007-2008 national elections in Russia as “fair” despite widespread practices of fraud and manipulations: “everything was fair… but 50% of the results were falsified” (Wilson K., 2012: 152); • … but do it mean regime’s consolidation? The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • political supply side - Putin as a dominant actor was able to maintain a balance of sticks and carrots, which made to any actor no choice other than subordination (“imposed consensus” or “offer one can’t refuse”); • political demand side - the increasing alienation of citizens from politics - when Russian citizens were faced with the regime, they preferred “exit” (Hirschman, 1970) to any instances of “voice”, thus contributing to the preservation of the status quo; • All these features contributed to the rise of electoral authoritarianism but also played a major role in its subsequent decline; The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • 2011-12 - a new “critical juncture” for the regime’s trajectory? • inability to get 50% of votes for UR in December 2011, wave of mass protests – “stunning election” effect? • Political pillars of electoral authoritarianism were questioned: • (1) Economic prosperity no longer secured support of the status quo regime from the “advanced” part of voters (i.e., young-educated-well-to-do-big-city-residents) but it was also insufficient for maintaining loyalty of “peripheral” voters (i.e., aged-unskilled-relatively-poorsmall-town-residents); The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Fear, to some extent, has been overcome due to the demonstrative bandwagon effect of mass protests (Kuran, 1991) and because of the spread of the Internet and social media; • Lies no longer effective as the “virtual politics” in the 2000s – “one can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but cannot fool all of the people all of the time” (Lincoln); • To what extent the decline of electoral authoritarianism in Russia is just a partial and temporary effect, or, rather, is it faced with a systemic crisis? • Lessons from 2013 Moscow city elections – risks of fair competition as a threat to the status-quo regime The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Possible regime’s further trajectories: • (1) the preservation of the status quo regime (and its further decay); • (2) the turn to an “iron fist”, or systematic “tightening of the screws” by the ruling group towards a more repressive regime; • (3) a step-by-step creeping (and quite probably, inconsistent) democratization. • The real practice of Russian politics could develop as a combination of these trajectories or as a shift from one trajectory to another. The Rise and Decline of Electoral Authoritarianism in Russia • Thanks for your attention!