China to Copy Russia’s Brand of Counterfeit Democracy?

jintaoputin1010.jpgPerhaps the worst part of the complacency with which the world has tolerated the Russia’s election farce is that many other authoritarian nations will take this as precedent – an understanding that skillful manipulation of democratic processes is perfectly OK with international partners. China, for one, seems ideally poised to copy Russia’s brand of sovereign democracy as though it were a counterfeit Prada handbag. This one comes from Time Magazine’s China Blog:

Anyone who is wondering what the future holds for China might take a close look at what happened in Russia over the weekend. As was widely predicted President Valdimir Putin’s choice for a successor Dimitri Medvedev handily won presidential elections and will make Putin his prime minister. According to the New York Times,”The election of Mr. Medvedev, 42, a first deputy prime minister, is the culmination of Mr. Putin’s efforts to consolidate control over the government, business and the news media since taking office eight years ago. Vowing to restore stability to Russia after the upheavals of the 1990s, Mr. Putin has increasingly used his authority and popularity to create what is in many respects a one-party state”.

Effectively a one party state but backed by the legitimacy of elections. Surely this combination must have sparked some interest over at the headquarters of the Communist Party in Zhongnanhai. When people wonder about the future of China they sometimes look to Singapore, a country that routinely holds elections but equally routinely returns the same party to power. Mindful of the tendency of the Singapore government to sue anybody suggesting that they have a less-than-perfect democracy, I won’t make any comments. However, it is a fact that the ruling People’s Action Party has won every single election by thumping majorities since independence in the early 60s. And that fact that has not escaped the attention of cadres in Beijing, who have sent several delegations south to try and figure out why this has happened and whether it can be repeated elsewhere, say in China. Some people argue that it’s absurd to compare a huge country of 1.3 billion with a small island nation of 3 million. It’s a fair point. But now that we have Russia as a possible example, a country whose population may not equal China’s but at 140 million certainly makes it a viable comparison.There are two critical factors in achieving a “managed democracy:” of the sort that appears to be evolving in Russia, it seems to me. Intimidating or co-opting the opposition so there is little real alternative to your candidate is one. But the other is the acquiescence of a large chunk of the population. People in Russia wanted (and apparently still want) stability after the upheavals of the Yeltsin era. People in China want to keep riding the economic boom as long as they can, which is the reason that if there were elections next week, the Communist Party would likely get the nod, particularly if they followed rule number one (emasculating the opposition). The question then, of course, is what happens if they good times come to an end, as they eventually must.