In an outcome that surprised no one, Putin “won” Russia’s sham election in a landslide. As expected, there were reports of ballot stuffing often seen when a dictator wants to claim democratic legitimacy without actually concerning himself with how his people vote.
But on a deeper level, Putin’s sham election would have been illegitimate even without fraud.
The hallmark of modern democracy is free citizens freely choosing their representatives. I put a version of “free” in there twice because it is vital. Most dictatorships have elections; that’s not enough.
Bashar al-Asad won the 2007 election to be Syria’s President with 98% of the vote. Although a pretty wide victory margin, it must have been a disappointment to not get 100% since he was the only candidate allowed on the ballot. A few years later, a majority of the country rose up to try to overthrow him in a brutal civil war.
North Korea, China, Egypt, and almost every other tyrannical dictatorship in the world will at least hold an election to pretend they represent the people. But that’s all it is: pretend.
True democracies can take many forms. They can have separate legislative and executive branches like America, or a parliament like Britain. Some democracies even keep a King or Queen around for some weird reason. What truly matters is that free citizens freely choose their leaders.
We say democracy, but we really mean liberty.
And this is why Putin’s election was a sham even before it was rigged. The Russian people are not free. Reporters and dissidents have a tendency to get caught up in drive-by shootings. Sometimes they are pushed off a bridge with no discernible motive. They commit suicide at an alarming rate. These are thinly disguised murders of anyone who stands in Putin’s way.
In an atmosphere such as this, in which people are afraid to criticize the leader and opposition candidates are arrested or disappeared, democracy is not possible because liberty does not exist. Russia was a dictatorship long before Putin stuffed the ballots, and no sham election will change that.