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East or West: Which democracy is best?

Published time: December 06, 2011 13:54
Edited time: December 07, 2011 17:35
Residents in the Siberian city of Tomsk casting their votes on December 4, 2011, to elect members of Russia's Duma, the lower Chamber of the Parliament (RIA Novosti / Yakov Andreev)

Residents in the Siberian city of Tomsk casting their votes on December 4, 2011, to elect members of Russia's Duma, the lower Chamber of the Parliament (RIA Novosti / Yakov Andreev)

No stranger to voting controversies of its own, Washington is lecturing Moscow over this week’s parliamentary elections, which kept United Russia in the political driver’s seat despite a drop in voter support.

Some of the United States criticism leveled against Russia has become so predictably unhinged that it has lost its shock appeal.

Senator John McCain, for example, fired off a rather unsociable social media message to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, warning him that an “Arab Spring” was on the way.

“Dear Vlad (Vladimir Putin), The ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you,” the former Republican candidate to the US presidency wrote in his Twitter micro blog. It is anybody’s guess whether McCain tweeted his tirade at the very same time Washington police were arresting Occupy D.C. protesters in McPherson Square.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US has “serious concerns” about Russia’s weekend parliamentary elections, which she labeled “unfair.”

The Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) expressed surprise over Clinton’s statement, recommending that she turn instead to the internal affairs of the United States.

"Mrs. Clinton should pay attention to the US elections," CEC Secretary Nikolai Konkin said on Tuesday.

Indeed, what foreign government did the United States heed in December 2000, when George W. Bush was selected – as opposed to democratically elected – to the highest office in the land by the grace of a Supreme Court decision? Although Democrat Al Gore captured the majority of the popular vote, the final decision rested in the hands of just nine justices, five of whom leaned heavily to the political right.

It should be added that not even in oil-rich Russia has the son of an oil tycoon, himself a one-term president, been elected to the presidency. George W. Bush served as US president from 2001-2009; his father, George H.W. Bush, a former two-term vice president, served as president from 1989-1993. It does not require a very vivid imagination to predict Washington’s response should a similar situation arise in Russia.

The US, however, does not desist from meddling in Russia’s internal affairs.

Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said Washington would provide greater support to non-governmental organizations in Russia for “greater transparency” of next year’s presidential election.

Despite America’s budget breakdown, millions of dollars of taxpayer money have been allocated for the purpose of“improving” Russian elections.

"We have, I know, spent more than $9 million to support free and transparent processes for Russia's upcoming elections," Toner said, before singling out ‘Golos,’ the Russian election observation watchdog."Our interest is to support these NGOs that support the process, not necessarily to support… any given political party," he went on. "And Golos, by the way, is just one of many nongovernmental organizations in Russia that receive this kind of assistance."

There are over 500,000 NGOs operating in Russia, including about 150,000 public policy organizations and 5,000 foreign NGO branches. The Justice Ministry oversees a 5,000-strong bureaucratic staff, in addition to the 1,000-strong NGO registration staff to coordinate the activities of these organizations.

In January 2006, the Russian parliament approved amendments that provide greater oversight of NGO activities in the country after it was determined that some groups were receiving funds from foreign governments, possibly channeled through intelligence services.

The bill requires that foreign NGOs notify the Federal Registration Service of their incoming funds and the way these funds are spent. It also imposes penalties and sanctions – up to filing a suit to shut down an NGO for failing to submit this information.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the committee for international affairs under the 5th State Duma (United Russia), warned that bilateral relations could suffer following Clinton's statement on the Russian election.

"This statement is not helpful in improving the atmosphere of our relations,” said Kosachev, who was elected to the 6th State Duma, “I'm hoping the US authorities will not draw any practical conclusions from the present odd statement by Mrs Clinton; it would be an impossible development."

Kosachev went on to say that Russia’s internal situation is for the Russian people alone to manage.

"If there are initiatives on the part of the US side, say, with direct support of those who Clinton says belong to the Democrats, our response will be tough and consistent,” the United Russia Duma member said. “Our after-election situation is our situation, and only we, the Russian people, can determine the parameters of holding election and eventually, give opinions about them.”

President Dmitry Medvedev said that international monitors who participated in overseeing the State Duma elections should not evaluate Russia's political system in general.

"The conclusion about the sufficiency or insufficiency of parties is an area of responsibility of the Russian authorities, not international organizations,” the president said while meeting with Russian Central Elections Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov referring to the evaluation given by the OSCE election monitoring mission to the December 4 elections. “If they monitor the quality of elections and violations, it's one thing; but the issue of the country's political system is none of their business.”

They will soon be telling us how to write our Constitution, the Russian leader added.

Medvedev repeated the general conclusion of the OSCE, which said that "the preparations for the elections were well organized.”

In latest news, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday for using a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to air her criticism about the recent elections to the State Duma, which, in his view, has no relation to this organization's activities.

"Hillary Clinton came to Vilnius to put in an appearance before her voters. Unfortunately, some of the counterparts use the OSCE forum for leveling criticism having nothing to do with the ministerial meeting's agenda," Lavrov told Russian journalists in Vilnius.

Clinton displayed "disrespect" for the OSCE and attempted to "score media points," especially taking into account next year's presidential election campaign in the US, Lavrov added.

Robert Bridge, RT