Personalized Power in Russia, By: Zack Bradley

Personal Power plays a large role in Russian politics, and may have recently played a role in the death of Russian politician, Boris Nomstov. Some believe that the Russian constitution promotes personal power in its politics. The interpretation of the constitution has monopolized the presidential position in government, and therefore does not allow for a plurality system. Without checks and balances it seems valid to agree that this is most definitely hindering democracy in Russia.

When analyzing Vladimir Putin in specific specialists agree that the media is altered in favor of the United Russia party, which makes it extremely difficult for opposing leaders to shift the balance of power. Allowing most of the governmental power to be in the hands of the president makes it especially difficult for apposing parties to offer candidates with the same attractiveness to the public eye. These reasons lead me to believe that that a consolidation of power into one individual leads to the demise of democratic principals, in regards to the inability for fair opposition. If opposing candidates hold a large disadvantage due to the rise in personalized power of the president, then it doesn’t seem that Russia runs free and fair election, henceforth hindering the democratic outlook of their nation.

In the recent news a scandal has broken out that may have a connection to the rise in personal power and the abuse of that power with President Putin. On February 27th 2015 Vladimir Putin’s Political rival Boris Nemstov was shot and killed on the side sidewalk in Moscow Russia. While alive, Nemstov was very verbal about his animosity towards President Putin. From the Yeltsin days Nemstov remained in the political spotlight and for this reason, many believe that Putin was the one behind the murder. We can see Personalized power playing an obvious role in this situation when, after the homicide Putin assumed absolute control over the investigation. It doesn’t seem morally right for Putin, to undergo the investigation of Nemstov’s death especially with allegations that he himself was the reason behind it.

Is the personalized power instilled in Putin what may have lead him to murdering his own Rival? Does a lack of checks and balances make the Russian President feel that he is above the law? If the allegations are correct then it seems that these point are valid. With the checks and balances of a democratic regime the leader is constantly regulated and checked on, but without restrictions what limits their power? If the Russian Constitution promotes personalized power, and that personalized power is used to suppress opposing parties ability to shift the power of government, then doesn’t it seem that the election actually are not free and fair? Overall, I believe that Personalized power in Russia is being utilized to limit opposing parties ability to a fair election, which in return is detrimental to democracy in Russia.


The political trend keeping Russia in the past

Russian history has been marred by the trend of an authoritative head of state with centralized power with minimal checks in three different political regimes. “Personalized power” was present in imperialist Russia when ultimate political authority was manifested in a monarch, throughout the communist regime when leaders like Stalin were able to implement radical political change by using vanguard party philosophy as justification, and now, in Russia’s post-communist attempt at democracy.


Despite having regular elections, Russia’s experiment with democracy is clearly failing. The current system of “personalized power” is damaging the most basic democratic ideals; political dissidents are silenced, election fraud is common, political power is becoming increasingly centralized, and political competition is run through the current political party. When Boris Yeltsin modeled the new postcommunist government after Western-style democracy, it appeared hopeful that this pattern would end. However, the new “democratic” constitution gave the president so much power that today Russia’s political system is considered a form of “soft authoritarianism.” For example, the president is able to dissolve the Federal Assembly in some circumstances, one of the most important checks on the Head of State’s power, and can issue presidential decrees which can pass policy without involving parliament. This extreme power can be seen in the political dominance the United Russia party has enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union. It has allowed Vladimir Putin, current president of Russia, to handpick his successor after his first term as president, implement a law extending the presidential term, and return to the presidency after the following elections. According to Lilia Shevtosa, “Putin brought postcommunist Russia back to the model that had ended in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet state and the unraveling of the old system (177).” She believes that as long as this system of “personalized power” is in play, Russia will never be able to truly implement democracy, and in its inevitable decay it will lead to more aggressive methods of asserting its power, such as the recent annexation of Crimea. Unfortunately, in a country whose politics have been shaped by various authoritarian figures it appears that the trend of “personalized power” is unlikely to be broken, especially as it continues to reject western ideas and isolate itself through aggressive military and diplomatic actions.


Kesselman, Mark, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph. 2014. Introduction to Comparative Politics. 7th Ed. Cengage Learning.

Shevtsova Lila. 2015. “Russia’s Political System: Imperialism and Decay.” Journal of Democracy 26(1): 171-182.

Russia’s personalized power and democracy

Throughout its history, from Soviet Union to Russia, the government has often functioned under personalized power, including Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Putin. However, the previous two leaders played role in ideological effect, while Putin’s approach is more from political aspect and military control. As Shevrtsova argues, because Putin’s non-ideological base, his personalized power may not be persistent as those party leaders, and he secures it through “military-patriotic mobilization,” or even ethnic approach (178).  However, whether such personalized power hinders democracy is debatable. Russia has a multiparty system, elections, and democratic institutions, so its deteriorating signs of democracy may have other causes. In Shevrtsova’s explanation of things that make Russia system unique, she points out “tradition of personalized power and the lack of resistance”, its nature of militarized state, its empire system, and “its ability to concentrate resources and survive by devouring its own human potential.” (175) Personalized power only counts for one of these factors that alter Russia governance. I felt that although these factors are coexisting, the influence of personalized power is further exaggerated because of Russia’s uniqueness that there is a positive feedback loop among these factors. Therefore, as the personalize power may hinder democratic political system, other factors are likely to enhance the resistance. However, if one of these factor, such as change its war state, from the effort of its political elites, may diminish the support for Putin since its political image as strong man should be no longer attractive.

However, whether its economy will force the Kremlin to be more democratic and aligns with Western values is also uncertain. In 2014, in response to change Putin’s tack in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Western countries imposed economic sanctions, affecting not only oil prices, but also its bank transfer (Roxburgh). However, in the same year, Putin and Xi Jinping signed the preliminary gas-supply agreement of almost $400 billion pact (Paton and Guo). This agreement lowers the price of import from other countries to compete with Russian’s supply, including Australia, Canada, the U.S. and East Africa (Paton and Guo). Economic sanctions were meant to restrict Russia’s behavior, and do not expect the interconnections between Russia’s economy and Western economy, yet the Western countries were being affected through the economic approach. Moreover, the harm of sanction seemed to go more direct to its people than to the government (Roxburgh). The approach that the rest of countries facilitate to change Russia’s state is really important to make Russia better serve its people. The image of Russia now from the Western perspective starts to get similar to that in the cold war age, such as Shevrtsova points out that Putin tries to “render Russia more demoralized that they were at the close of much longer Soviet age,” (181) and this image and corresponding polices did not went well for the people and global seecurity back then.


Shevtsova Lila. 2015. “Russia’s Political System: Imperialism and Decay.” Journal of Democracy 26(1): 171-182.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Personalized Power in Putin’s Russia

If nothing else, Vladimir Putin certainly has an impressive resume.
Lieutenant colonel in the KGB. Director of the Federal Security Service. Three-time president. Prime Minister. In his spare time, he wrestles bears, flies fighter jets, and takes topless photos on horseback.
And while he is an efficient executive—perhaps brutally so—he is not a proponent of democracy or its institutions. Putin has taken advantage of networks of personalized power, using them to subvert democracy and concentrate his own power over the Russian state.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russians wanted “not fixed rules but fixers,” turning again to systems of personalized power that concentrated authority in one individual, in order to rebuild their shattered nation; enter Putin—who, notably, was appointed as acting president before actually being elected (Shevtsova 176).
This is, unfortunately, very undemocratic. First, Putin’s initial appointment to the presidency shows he was not chosen by the will of the people, but a technicality. And once in power, Putin experienced a “lack of restraint” characteristic of Russian personalized power (Shevtsova 175).
Consider, for example, that Putin won a third term as president in 2012 by earning 107% of the vote—that is to say, he received more votes than registered voters, clearly indicative of fraud (NBC). The takeaway, however, is that Putin’s networks of personalized power are so effective that he is not even beholden to elections; he can stifle democracy and subvert the will of the people in order to preserve his place at the head of Russia’s government.
Not only has personalized power allowed Putin to remain in office, but also enabled him to consolidate authority. In an unprecedented move, Putin became the Chairman of the United Russia party, making him Russia’s chief executive and head of the legislature and thus making it impossible for him to be removed from office according to the constitutional practice (KKJ 567).
Lastly, Putin uses personalized power to eliminate opponents. In 2006, after publishing articles critical of Putin and the Chechen Wars, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed in her apartment building (BBC). However, since her death occurred on October 7—Putin’s birthday—certain critics have seen her killing as a murderous “gift.”
Personalized power, therefore, has been an anchor dragging down Russian democracy. It sacrifices rule of law for rule by personality. It trades free and fair elections for efficiency. It subverts the democratic values and principles under which people can have their voice heard by concentrating power in the hands of an individual. Personalized power creates and enables thugs like Putin.
Personalized power existed during the Soviet Union and it lives again during Putin’s regime. Its continued existence begs the question: Will Russian politics ever change?
If current trends continue, then the answer is nyet, comrade.

Joseph, William A, Mark Kesselman, and Joel Krieger. Introduction to Comparative Politics. 7th ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2013.
“Obituary: Anna Politkovskaya.” BBC News, October 7, 2006.
Shevtsova, Lilia. “Russia’s Political System: Imperialism and Decay.” Journal of Democracy 26, no. 1 (2015): 171-182.
“107 percent turnout? Another side to Russia’s vote.” NBC News, March 6, 2012.

Democracy: The Russian Way

Russia under the leadership of Putin is currently going down a rabbit hole it will not be able to return from without considerable pain and damage to the Russian people.  Not only is the current path causing harm and risk to the Russian people but it is eroding the long term democracy of the nation.  The sway of personalized power, most clearly shown in the actions of Putin, have allowed the Russian people to become enslaved to the will of there leader.  As Shevtsova states in her scholarly work,  Putin has convinced his people that they are in a “besieged fortress” (178). This fight for survival and enemy at our gates mentality has allowed Putin to claim near authoritarian power all the while being re-elected with 63% of the vote (Reuters).  This is evident in the recent assassination of the main political opposition to Putin right outside of the Kremlin building, the symbolic building of Putins power (Reuters).  Even though Shevtsova uses the definition of democracy provided by Lipset, any range of democratic definition does not include the killing of the opposition party.

To further cement the personal power of Putin in his efforts to warp democracy to his will the creation of the siloviki or strongmen social class.  It is the goal of the this new social class to concentrate the generation of social and political power in the hands of the few.  This proves that the Putin administration does not have the best interest of the Russian people in mind, thus ruling out any possible working definition of democracy.  The traditional imperial administration of the Russian Federation is one so concerned with maintaining its personal power and influence that it is willing strive for a constant state of war and throw democracy to the way side.

Violence and Mexico’s Struggle for Democracy

Mexico suffers from several challenges that hinder its success at maintaining a stable democracy. Although it may fit a procedural definition of democracy where it has consistent and competitive elections, its patronage system that continues to exist in the government continues to take away from a democratic spirit. The patronage system was developed to trade support for favors in the government and maintain national stability (Kesselman, Krieger & Joseph 424). Although this historically did maintain political order, it challenges true democracy. Additionally, the high inequality rates throughout the country act as a challenge to democracy because the poorest and most rural population are not equally represented in the government or do not have the same opportunity to become a political elite (KKJ, 441). Although these same issues exist in the United States, it still acts as a challenge to Mexico’s democracy and its democratic practices. The most significant challenge to Mexico’s democracy is arguably the violence and presence of the drug cartels as they pose a constant threat to the government’s stability, as well as present the opportunity to bribe and corrupt officials. The attempts by they military to persecute the drug cartels have only led to further lack of trust with the government as violence and corruption have let the people to fear the military instead of looking for protection.

This mistrust in the government due to violence and the presence of drug cartels have come to a global light after Mexico had a massive protest movement last year when 43 students were murdered. The protests shed light on the terrible violence that was occurring throughout the country and the power and corruption the drug cartels had over the national government. Because violence is so horrific, some professionals have argued that Mexico is a failed state (Taub, 2014). The organized crime in the country has so significantly hindered institutions that it has provided more room for drug cartels to grow and expand. Violence has started to affect Mexico’s economy as well because it is impacted its tourism industry and place a global mistrust in Mexico’s security and stability.

“Internal Warfare”- Organized Crime Challenges Mexico’s Democracy

For seventy-one years, Mexico was ruled under the PRI, Or the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The PRI, set in place by Plutarco Elias Calles, was a single party system. This authoritarian style rule controlled Mexico’s politics on the national, as well as the state levels. It was not until 2000 that the PRI lost presidency. Vincente Fox won the election, marking the official transition of Mexico into a democracy. For the first time in seventy-one years, Mexico existed under the PAN, or National Action Party. Unfortunately, there were challenges right from the start. Fox realized how difficult it was going to be to bring about the changes that he had promised to the people of Mexico. The first challenge to this democratic rule was simply the lack of experience. Fox and his administration had no model to go off of. Additionally, Fox lacked the close relationship with his party that PRI parties once experienced.

Following Fox’s term came the second National Action Party President, Felipe Calderon. One of the greatest challenges to democracy during Calderon’s term was the increasing cost of fighting the war on drugs and organized crime.

From the outside looking in, Mexico’s democracy appears sufficient. Proper elections take place, citizens vote, and “all the needed democratic institutions are in place.” (Schedler 10). However, the threat to democracy was abundantly present due to the drug war and organized crime. This drug violence still exists as the biggest challenge to democracy in Mexico. This “internal warfare” (Schedler) may not be classified as a typical attack on a political system. However, “the practical effects of the criminal violence that they wield can be just as damaging to the democratic integrity of elections as the political violence that openly antidemocratic ideologues might employ.” (Schedler 10).

The violent crimes seen in Mexican society reveal the inability of the Mexican state to protect its people. The countless acts of torture, kidnappings, and murders that take place are bad enough, but the way Mexico handles these horrible crimes is equally as disappointing. Not only does Mexico seem indifferent to these attacks, the state appears unable and even unwilling to do anything to improve the situation.

Statistics from the Journal of Democracy state “According to figures collected by Human Rights Watch, between December 2006 and January 2011, Mexican authorities attributed about 35,000 homicides to organized crime. Of these, 2.8 percent led to formal criminal investigations, 0.9 percent led to formal criminal charges being filed, and 0.06 percent led to firm convictions.” (Schedler 12). The lack of punishment is only letting this crime persevere. Additionally, Due to the 74 journalists and media-support workers killed in a five-year span, studies have listed Mexico as one of the most dangerous places in the world for media personnel and reporters. (Schedler)

Putting myself in the position of an innocent Mexican citizen, I would be disappointed in the democracy of my country, but more importantly I would be terrified for my safety. A democratic government should, if nothing else, provide public safety.

This epidemic of violence that has taken over the democracy of Mexico has finally resulted in citizens longing for the relatively peaceful country that existed in the years before the PAN replaced the PRI in presidency.



Works Cited

Flores-Macías, Gustavo. “Mexico’s 2012 Elections: The Return of the PRI.” Journal of Democracy: 128-41. Print.


Schedler, Andreas. “The Criminal Subversion of Mexican Democracy.” Journal of    Democracy: 5-18. Print.












The Struggle for Democracy in Mexico

On the surface, one might think progress in democracy has been made in Mexico due to the peaceful turnover of power this past election to the Industrial Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the period of time from 2000-2012 where the PRI was not in power. However, the effects of drug cartels and the PRI’s return to power hinder Mexico’s struggle to maintain a democracy without corruption and unrest among it’s people.

From a minimalist definition, Shedler argues that Mexico can not be considered a democracy because of the corruption in the electoral arena caused by “criminal enterprises”, or the drug cartels. Drug cartels take an interest in “shaping the dynamics of electoral competition” by funding or support candidates, attempting to drive out candidates from elections, and intimidating voters through violence and crime (Shedler). The increasing deaths due to organized crime have sky rocked from 1,304 in 2005 to 16,603 in 2011, and the constant threat of violence, kidnapping, human trafficking, and crime directed towards civilians calls for government action to protect their citizens and fight organized crime. However, with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI, Mexicans have grown extremely unhappy with the lack of intervention and focus on human rights and security. It also brings about concerns regarding the persistence of democracy. The PRI ruled Mexico for over 70 years in an authoritative style, while being accused of electoral fraud and vote buying this past election (The Economist).

The political regime has come under question with two recent massacres preformed by the Mexican military and local police from Tlatlaya (Huffington Post). Both incidents were covered up by federal and local officials and both confirm suspicions that the “drug war” was a “cover for political repression” (Huffington Post). President Peña’s failure “to make security a priority” and use of “the police and the courts as enforcing political control” vividly illustrate the corruption Mexico faces and the lack of enforcement on security issues which are critical for a functioning democracy.

Clearly, the violence and corruption caused by drug cartels and the PRI’s return to power make the preservation of democracy in Mexico seem very unlikely.

A “Politics of Silence” Towards Violence and Crime in Mexico

The inability of state governments to maintain order and secure the rights of individual citizens poses the greatest challenge to democracy in Mexico. If the state cannot guarantee public safety to it citizens, civil society looks to other means to secure their safety. In Mexico, the power of criminal organizations and drug cartels to institute their own rules of law and disrupt order challenges the legitimacy of the government to maintain its power. Data on the annual drug-related homicides in Mexico varies based on the source but according to Schedler the number in 2012 was around 14,000 has gone down since previous years, remains at a horrific level nonetheless (16) . However, this number does not include people who may have been “disappeared” by either police forces or drug cartels nor does it account for the rumored “score-settling” that police forces inflict on suspected criminals.

The criminal activities of sub-state organizations endemic to Mexico is not limited to drug trafficking as these groups have diversified their tactics into large scale kidnapping, human trafficking, and extortion, including the “torture and murder of security officials and assaults on police stations” (Schedler 7). The goal of establishing public safety might be more attainable, if it weren’t for the systemic levels of corruption that plague every level of the state. Everyone from police officers to politicians to judges have been rumored (and sometimes known) to receive bribes or be blackmailed by criminal organizations. As a result Citizens are left with little power to protect themselves from the violence or pursue legal reparations for injustices which the war between the military and the cartel inflict upon their communities.

While in 2008 certain states introduced constitutional amendments that would provide “public trials with oral testimony and the presumption of innocence”—provisional rights taken for granted in places like the United States—Mexico has a long way to go in order to have these reforms work to ensure democracy and stability (Kesselman). Another concerning development is the federal government’s policy agenda on tackling crime—or the lack there of. What Schedler refers to as a “politics of silence”, where the new government has taken issues of violence and crime off the public agenda in order to focus on “positive reform” is very concerning. This suggests either that the government might be greatly influenced by criminal organizations or that they have given up real efforts to combat the problem. The most recent case of the 43 disappeared students exemplifies the corruption that plagues Mexico’s institutions and the public distrust of even the highest levels of authority in the country. Below is a link to a short documentary about the abductions and the search for the students’ whereabouts.

*Warning: it may be graphic at parts*

Works Consulted:

Kesselman Krieger and Joeseph, Introduction to Comparative Politics, ed. 7, pp. 403-446.

Schedler, Andreas, “The Criminal Subversion of Mexican Democracy”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 25, 2014.