While the world has kept a close eye on Turkey following the July 15 attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, some analysts and bloggers have opted to analyze what the failed attempt meant for other countries. In his recent commentary piece “Relegitimizing Russian Power,” published on the Carnegie Moscow Center website, Russian analyst Andrei Kolesnikov writes that there is a lesson in Turkey’s attempted coup for the Russian government.
After a group of military officials attempted to overthrow Erdogan, Turkish president called on people to resist the coup and defend their democracy. One of the Turkish protesters told the Guardian that it was the country’s trauma of past military interventions that drove tens of thousands of Turks to the streets to stand up for democratic values, though not necessarily for Erdogan as their country’s leader.
The possibility of a military coup in Russia has been the subject of discussion among policy wonks and academics, though most of them agree the possibility of such an event is low. In a recent article, Kolesnikov argues that the Kremlin would not need to withstand an attempted coup in order to position itself as a defender of democratic values. Instead, he writes, Russia might use the upcoming 2016 Parliamentary and 2018 Presidential elections to create a false sense of fairness and democracy in an attempt to strengthen the gradually declining regime.
There is an important lesson here for Russian authoritarians: they now have a formula for buttressing their ostensibly strong but in fact gradually declining regime. All they have to do to restore their vanishing legitimacy is declare themselves defenders of democracy.
Russia’s ruling class won’t even have to stage a coup to do so. (Nobody would believe it was real anyway.) The regime, rotting from years of corruption and inefficiency, will find other ways to legitimate itself.
The 2016 parliamentary elections present an opportunity for the government to do just that. It won’t be hard to make the elections look “fair”; all they have to do is put a familiar “menu” of political parties on the ballot. No falsification will be necessary: the disoriented voter will simply prefer to order “the usual,” opting for the parties and candidates they recognize. The 2018 elections will be even “fairer,” featuring zero viable alternatives to the incumbent elite.
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