Importance Of Democratic Institutions In Authoritarian Countries

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One of the questions that Blaydes (2010), Svolik (2012), Magaloni (2006) and
Gandhi (2008) all address is the following one: why do nominally democratic institutions, such as parliament elections, often exist in the authoritarian countries?
In this paper, I consider an example of Putin’s Russia and show that the explanations offered in these books do not fit very well to this particular case. Instead, I argue that the democratic institutions in Russia exist mainly due to the necessity of some degree of external and internal democratic legitimacy of the regime.
Before I start the main discussion though, it is important to say why we should even care about why democratic institutions are present in the authoritarian countries. If we use a definition
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Putin did not participate in presidential elections in 2008 because he had already been in the office for two terms by that moment (Putin-Medvedev alternation) However, it would be a huge overstatement to say that Russia is a democracy1. It implies that using the same methods and models that are used for the democracies or pure dictatorships to study Russian politics might be inappropriate.
Understanding the origins and properties of the democratic (or quasi-democratic) institutions in such countries could help to better distinguish between different regimes and to develop new methods of analyzing political processes in authoritarian countries with strong democratic facades.
Now, as we established importance of the topic, we can move forward to the discussion of the arguments. In Gandhi (2008), the presence of the democratic institutions mainly depends on the strength of the opposition. If the opposition
1Non-democratic phenomena in Russia include: media control and propaganda, political prisoners, legal barriers for the "non-systemic" opposition parties
1is strong enough, authoritarian governments might use political institutions to facilitate the process of negotiations with the opposition and to keep them
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If we take a look at the results of the Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Russia, it might seem like this is indeed the case. Putin’s party, United
Russia, got 54.3% of votes, but three opposition parties made it to the parliament as well. To an outsider, it might look like Putin agreed to provide an arena for discussions to the opposition. However, these parties (Communist Party, LDPR and A Just Russia) are all sanctioned by Kremlin, they always vote in

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