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Elections in post USSR countries Research Paper

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Updated: May 21st, 2019


Post Soviet countries are particularly interesting to analyze because the Soviet state compelled and directed their activities during the USSR period, and yet repressed many others that supported democracy. Only three nations currently boast of democratic rule while the rest of the fifteen countries are either fully or partially autocratic.

Undemocratic rule in post-USSR nations

Democracy is a mode of governance in which the public is the major influencer of political decisions. Democratic states expect citizens to participate in elections and other activities done between elections. Examples include finding membership in a political party, questioning political leaders and lobbying for or against undesirable policies.

Nonetheless, the state must still consider the opinions of less-active citizens during political decision-making. Additionally, democratic countries need to preserve the liberty, autonomy and privacy of its citizens. The analysis of this report will be on whether post soviet countries possess these traits several years after separation from a communist regime.

The level of democracy attained in post-USSR nations is quite divergent. Therefore, one cannot talk about all fifteen countries in a sweeping manner. In fact, it is appropriate to divide post-Soviet countries in accordance with their level of political development. Nations with a moderate level of democracy include Lithuania, Moldova, Estonia and Latvia. These are countries that have transferred power to members of the opposition through elections.

Undemocratic states consist of those entities that have never transferred power to the opposition, and they include Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Power in these nations is concentrated in the hands of few individuals who transfer control to predetermined entities. Other nations have combined both democratic and undemocratic rule over the past two decades; some of them include Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine (Heathershaw 3).

In certain circumstances, these latter countries have had democratic regimes that have preceded or paved the way for undemocratic rule. In the future, such countries are likely to choose one path over the other. It is imperative to understand the historical or national developments that characterize and led to the state of autocracy in most post USSR nations.

However, before analyzing the reasons behind authoritarian rule in these states, one must first understand the political landscape in the countries. In most of the nations that have an undemocratic system, manipulation of the constitution is a common practice. Authoritarian rulers regard the constitution as an obstacle to their ability to control power.

Therefore, many of them have and continue to amend their constitutions in order to protect their place. For instance during the 1990s, Russia made it almost impossible to impeach the president. Other countries may not have passed such a constitutional law, but they still abide by its principles.

Countries like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia have unusually strong presidential powers. As a result, parliament has limited control thus perpetuating autocratic rule. Some presidents such as Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev and Karimov of Uzbekistan had limited powers, but they used the constitution to prolong their rule in those respective nations. Other presidents have carried out referendums and used decrees in order to ascertain that they remain country leaders.

Issues of personality cults are not uncommon in some post-soviet nations. A case in point was the death of Saparmut Niyazov of Turkmenistan. He had ruled the country since its independence and left its citizens confused when he died in 2006. Some of these countries create dynastical tendencies by prescribing and handing over the presidency of their nations to their predecessor’s next of kin. One such example was Azerbaijan’s leader Jeydar Aliyev who ascertained that his son took over power when he left.

A number of the presidents in these nations exploit their powers in order to secure their positions. Many of them use economic awards as tools for political control. Therefore, contracts will not go to the people who deserve them but will be received by the least threatening group.

Presidents of these post-Soviet nations want to ascertain that no alternatives exist for their power. It is a known fact that sometimes economic elites have mobilized themselves and controlled the political leadership. Therefore, such countries prefer to sacrifice economic prosperity for presidential control.

Even the status of political parties in these nations is quite wanting. Many political parties are just superficial creations designed to solidify the president’s position. For instance, in Russia a political party known as United Russia has been attested to the ruling president. In Kazakhstan, Otan is the presidential party while Tajikistan has the People’s Democratic Party. The parties lack substance and do not stand for any ideologies.

Democratic nations have parties that are based on ideas not personalities, even when they exist in a newly independent nation. Countries such as China and Mexico have had ruling parties from time immemorial. However the CP and PRI, respectively, came to power through legitimate social revolutions. As a result, these parties truly mean something to the people. The same is not true for many post-Soviet nations.

The state of media freedom in the above-mentioned authoritarian regimes is defective. Because of the dictatorial nature of these nations, political leaders keep a tight grip on the media because it controls how the public perceives them. In fact, cases of assassination of journalists have been common in these states.

A case in point was the murder of Anna Politikovskaya in Russia. She was a Russian journalist who committed herself to the fight for democracy. Her efforts came to an abrupt end after her killing. Likewise, the death of political opponents in these countries also explains why democracy is yet to be attained there. The death of a political opposition leader known Zamanbek Nurkadilov in Kazakhstan testifies to these occurrences.

Many revolutions have taken place in these states as an indication of the discontentment that the public has about their political systems. For instance, in 2008, Armenian citizens attempted a revolution but they failed to garner the numbers needed to make the revolution successful. Additionally, three revolutions took place between 2005 and 2006 in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia again, yet these revolutions did not lead to changes in the democratic landscape of those nations.

Scholars have called these uprisings the fifth wave or color revolutions. The public in post-USSR has expressed its discontent with the ruling elite through a series of demonstrations, but the government has repressed most of these uprisings. A case in point was the Andijan protests in Uzbekistan, which took place in May 2005. Members of the group opposed the trials of local Islamic businessmen. The state responded by killing and mistreating the participants of that act.

Separatism is common in several of these nations. Some of them have fueled military conflicts as well as tensions in the region. Adjara in Georgia was one such location. An autocrat known as Aslan Abashidze led the region until 2004. He broke geographical ties with Georgia after claiming that the latter country would attack the region. Abashidze’s people did not support him and eventually caused an uprising. When the leader left, Adjara rejoined Georgia.

Therefore, separatist claims have undermined democracy in larger countries and been created by autocratic leaders in the seceding territories. Many of these calls for separatism have led to frequent bursts of violence. Azerbaijan has been in constant conflict with Nagomo Karabakh and issues between these nations have not been resolved to this day (Kuzio 371).

The problem of civil wars is not uncommon among some of these nations. A Georgian civil war occurred because of divergent political views among the electorate. Tajikistan is also another country marred by civil conflicts. These occurrences would not be prevalent in democratic states because entities in such nations do not have to use violence in order to make their voices heard.

Factors that contribute to the lack of democracy in most post USSR nations

Religion and culture is a crucial contributor to this problem. Several authoritarian nations in the former USSR region, except Russia, are Islamic. Conversely, the countries that fall in the democratic category are predominantly Christian. Although one cannot make a blanket statement about how Islam influenced the state of democracy in these nations, it is crucial to acknowledge that religious affiliations affected their final outcomes.

Scholars acknowledge that democracy is a western idea that has been propagated and embraced by people that belong to this group. Additionally, many western cultures also adhere to the Christian faith. Consequently, post-soviet nations that were predominantly Christian tended to identify more with their western counterparts than any other players in the international political scene.

As a result, these countries were more likely to adopt methods of governance that reflected western principles. Conversely, nations with an Islamic background did not care much for the values of democracy because they did not feel associated with the west. Nonetheless, the influence of Islam on democracy has been the subject of much debate in scholastic circles, so one must realize the complexities of this matter in understanding the region (Trapsh 39).

In close relation to the above argument is the notion of a country’s national consciousness. The historical developments in most post-Soviet nations had a lasting effect on their current political predispositions. Nations such as Russia had imperial governments in their past.

Individuals such as Peter the Great have defined Russia’s national consciousness and caused many of them to identify with this political disposition. The latter leader was an autocrat who then paved the way for current undemocratic occurrences in this nation. Additionally, several Uzbekistanis had another autocratic leader during the 14th Century known as Timur.

He conquered most of Central and Western Asia at the time. Although these exploits took place centuries ago, many citizens of the country draw a lot of pride from them, and have formed current identities based on those ideas. Likewise, Kazakhstanis rested power in elected khans who descended from a Mongol ruler.

Therefore, although the khans were elected, they had to descend from a privileged line. Such thinking paved the way for democratic failures in this country today. Conversely, a country such as the Ukraine has undergone a lot of unstable periods in its past. During the 17th Century, the country has a combination of partly democratic and partly anarchic systems. It is these developments that have contributed to their current identity as a moderately democratic nation (Diamond 2).

The problem of ethnic conflicts as well as border disputes has been a characteristic for several of these post-Soviet nations, and may explain why the countries are yet to attain democracy. Cases of border disputes between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and other regions indicate how fragile the relationship has been between members of the former USSR.

Additionally, Ukraine has often fought with Russia over the Asov Sea. The same fight has occurred between Ukraine and Romania. These border disputes may have contributed to the economic destabilization of some post-soviet nations.

Aside from the history and the culture of these nations, strict dictatorship also arose because of the constitutional conditions in the post-soviet nations. Many of these countries had just left a communist regime in the Soviet, so they needed to reengineer their political systems. Democratic principles seemed promising to these entities, but few of them lacked the knowledge and systems to implement it. Therefore, the transitional nature of these countries after the break-up of the Soviet may have perpetuated such a system.

Some of the leaders in these fifteen nations served in the former Soviet as leaders. In an effort to rid themselves off the remnants of the past, many of these nations had conflicts between presidents and other leaders. Most presidents won; after which, they consolidated power by undermining the constitution. Such actions set a precedent for proceeding leaders in those nations. They could manipulate the constitution in order to serve their interests (Trapsh 40).

Economic control was a crucial tactic that many post soviet presidents used in order to consolidate power. Many of them privatized crucial state-owned corporations and ensured that they belonged to nonthreatening groups. A case in point was Kazakhstan leader Nazarbaev. He gave Jews and several other foreign companies oil contracts in order to ensure that the new elite did not threaten his position.

He did not want Kazakhs to garner enough wealth to challenge him. Furthermore, Nazarbaev felt that enriching one clan over the other would minimize his prospects for supreme rule, so he decided to look outside for these deals. Likewise, Russia’s Yeltsin used the same logic when granting contracts to organizations in the banking sector.

Six of the seven banks in the country were Jewish-owned. He believed that giving members of such a marginal group enormous economic power would minimize their chances of mobilizing a mass following against him. Since few Jews exist in Russia, it is unlikely that these wealthy bankers could have sufficient numbers to oust its leader (Hirsh 210).

Some analysts believe that these post-Soviet nations simply have not reached the level of political maturity that would facilitate democracy. A country needs to have a valid opposition and constitution that change agents can use as reference points during their call for political transformation.

A country like Turkmenistan often treats elections as rituals because the public already knows who will win; Uzbekistan shares the same fate as the latter. In addition, these countries do not possess a legal opposition. Therefore, no other side can question the governing authority about its ability to obey to the constitution. Unless an election is legitimate, then chances are such undemocratic systems will continue to thrive. It is possible that the lack of such institutions has placed these nations in a vicious cycle of autocracy.

As mentioned earlier, several revolutions have taken place in post-USSR in order to oust authoritarian leaders; however, few of them have been as successful at instating democratic institutions in affected countries. The failure of these revolutions is explained by the lack of unity among the electorate.

Most members of the revolution focused too much on winning elections rather than enabling a new democratic dispensation to arise in their respective countries. These revolutions sometimes came up when elections were disputed, and caused opposing leaders to get into power. In Kyrgyzstan, President Akayev had to resign after the Tulip Revolution arose. Therefore, the excessive focus on short term goals may have minimized the ability of the revolutions to cause tangible changes in the democratic status of their countries (Hale 312).

Ethnic division is a serious problem for many post soviet nations. In fact, this explains why undemocratic leaders continue to thrive even in areas where elections take place. A case in point is the support for President Yanukovych in 2011. He enjoyed a lot of support from certain ethnic regions, especially in his home base.

Yanukovych hailed from an Eastern Ukraine town known as Donetsk. Members of the region unanimously voted for him because they thought of him as ‘their man’. Since it is a coal mining region, most of these individuals make their daily plans on the basis of their shifts at the mines.

They have no time to be active in politics since work at the mine is quite demanding. Furthermore, many of them are uncertain about their return from work because conditions there are quite dangerous. Most of them simply vote for the person their coworkers or their bosses tell them to vote. Even workers’ wives merely listen to their husbands and vote accordingly. President Yanukovych belongs to The Party of Regions, and its support is unrivalled in certain key institutions in the country.

For instance, school heads will often warn voluntary organizations from talking about political matters to their students. This is because they are loyal supporters of The Party of Regions. Supporters of the President from the East believe that they deserve to control politics because they are the most productive members of the nation. They often make fun of Western Ukrainians owing to their peasant lifestyles.

Conversely, Western Ukrainians believe that the current President is a weak leader who allowed the real power to rest in the hands of bureaucrats and Russian entities. These sharp animosities between regions in post-Soviet nations contribute to undemocratic tendencies in these nations (Leigh 4).

The last reason why autocratic rule has thrived in some post-soviet nations is the delivery of economic prosperity or relative stability among certain leaders. A case in point was Russia’s President Putin’s economic-prosperity-for-social-stability deal.

He governed the country for 12 years and substituted the tumultuous economic hardships of the Yeltsin era with lucrative energy and economic successes. Ordinary Russians feel this leader’s presence is synonymous with stability hence explaining their support for him. In essence, Russia’s political freedom has been traded for economic stability.


The lack of democracy in post USSR countries is not unexpected given the myriad of challenges confronted by these nations. Several of them have histories that favor autocratic rule. They are regionally and ethnically divided, and lack the political systems needed to support democratic rule. This explains why civil war, border disputes, unfair elections, weak political parties, paternal presidents, and abuse of economic and constitutionals privileges are common among post-Soviet leaders.

Works Cited

Diamond, Larry. “The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State.” Foreign Affairs, May 2008, pp. 1-2. Print.

Hale, Harriet. “Democracy or Autocracy on the March? The Colored Revolutions as Normal Dynamics of Patrimonial Presidentialism.” Communist and Post Communist Studies, 39 (2005)” 305-329. Print.

Heathershaw, John. Post-conflict Tajikistan: The politics of peace building and the emergence of legitimate order. London: Routledge. Print.

Hirsh, Francis. “Towards an Empire of Nations: Border –Making and The Formation Of Soviet National Identities.” Russian Review 59.2(2000): 201-226. Print.

Kuzio, Taras. “Civil Society, Youth and Social Mobilization in Democratic Revolutions.” Journal of Communist and Post Communist Studies 39.1(2006): 371. Print.

Leigh, Christopher. Who Votes for Yanukovych? Web.

Trapsh, Nicolay. “Problems of Post Communism.” The North Caucasus and the multilevel international subsystem 54.2(2007): 38-48. Print.

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