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The Spread of Democratic Habits in Russia


Russian democracy under Yeltsin was far from perfect, with the parliament in frequent disarray, with an authoritarian style to the presidency, and with corruption scandals succeeding each other in a never-ending stream. But one must not overlook the important process of the steady accustomation with democratic procedures that went on under the unruly surface. This habit formation affected both the electors and the elected, who got used to certain rules of the game as these rules gained increasing legitimacy. 


Contested elections, as one of the vital elements of the democratic process, became competitive and regular. Between the first contested elections of USSR deputies in 1989 and the presidential election of March 2000, Russian voters went to the polls ten times in nationwide elections:

1989 election of USSR deputies
1990 election of RSFSR and local deputies
1991 March: referenda on preserving union and creating Russian presidency
1991 June: election of RSFSR president
1993 April: referendum on approval of Yeltsin and government
1993 December: election of deputies to new parliament and referendum on draft constitution
1995 December: election of deputies to parliament
1996 June/July: election of president
1999 December: election of deputies to parliament
2000 March: election of president

These elections varied in the degree to which they were honest, open, and fair. But the principle of democratic elections as a means of conferring legitimate power on political leaders is now well established, both in political practice and in public opinion.

With all their flaws and deficiencies, the modernized or recreated Russian institutions are nevertheless in continuous function. In the Duma as in other elected bodies, the parliamentarians deliberate, examine laws, formulate proposals, and gradually acquire a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the nation. The mere survival and routine operation of lively parliamentary institutions at different levels contribute to democratic stability and maturity and reinforce the process of sound habit formation among both the rulers and the ruled.  

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