The Irish Times view on elections in Russia: a democracy in name only

It would be foolish to expect a major upset in the elections to the lower house

In liberal democracies it is a normal sequence of events that when something goes seriously wrong in the economy or society the electorate will hold the government responsible, punishing it at the next voting opportunity. One might well expect this to happen in a country where almost 800 people are dying every day of Covid-related illnesses, at a time when many other states are getting on top of the pandemic.

In Russia, however, where such devastating figures continue to be recorded, it would be foolish to expect a major upset in the elections to the lower house which run from today until Sunday. The country's largest party, United Russia, holds 336 of the Duma's 450 seats. Strongly identified with president Vladimir Putin, it promotes a platform of "national conservatism" – opposition to liberal and "Western" ideas, including women's and gay rights; support for the Orthodox church and for the reassertion of Russian power internationally, allied with pragmatism in economics, allowing space for both state and private enterprise.

Opposition in the Duma comes from the communists and the misnamed liberal democrats, both led by familiar figures who have been bit players in Russian politics over many decades. The communists seek a return to the harsh political regime of the Soviet Union, while the liberal democrats oppose both communism and neo-liberalism, offering voters an alternative diet of ethnic Russian chauvinism and ultranationalism.

Though claiming to represent a political alternative, these parties are actually funded by the state. Meanwhile, the Russian opposition figure best-known internationally, Alexei Navalny, is serving a sentence in a prison colony, while his political party, Russia of the Future, is denied legal status. Navalny's allies have nevertheless been working assiduously from abroad, promoting through digital means a tactical "smart voting" strategy designed to damage United Russia and help its rivals.


For the foreseeable future, however, Russia seems destined to remain a democracy in only the most nominal sense.