States on the Verge of Change: A Focus on Russia and China

This post is part of IPSA‘s pre-conference blog series. You can join the conversation on April 13th here.

Governing through violence and using dictatorial means to deal with socio-political challenges have led to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The wind of change is now heading toward Russia and China.

On Thursday, March 22, 2012, International Federation of Electoral Systems (IFES) held an event in Washington, D.C, on the recent Russian election cycle. Debate focused on the parliamentary and presidential elections and how the resulting public reactions inside Russia are impacting the development of democracy in the country. Conversations also looked at how these factors may influence national elections taking place in neighboring countries this year.

It may be a stretch to propose that Russia is on the verge of change, but it is clear there is something different in the air. There have recently been a series of protests sweeping throughout Moscow resulting from alleged vote rigging in the December 2011 parliamentary and March 2012 presidential elections. These events have made their mark on many people in Russia, from journalists, students and academics, to more politically opportunistic professionals.

People are speaking out and gathering more freely; something that seemed impossible seven months ago. Major protests are being planned demanding that Vladimir Putin step down. Several individuals have been detained, including opposition leader Ilya Yashin.

In China, the Communist Party has undermined the rule of law and lost the confidence of the people. The Associated Press reported on March 21, 2012, that the Chinese government wants lawyers to take a pledge of loyalty to the Communist Party, a move that has been criticized by human rights lawyers who have defended critics of the ruling party.

When an administration lacks credibility, it lacks solid ground for trust from the people. However, the basic technique of the Communist Party is to acquire and preserve its control by being dependent on its dictatorial means. The Communist Party thrives by engaging in violence, which has become a panacea in keeping the people under their dictatorship. They maintain their authoritarian government by completely neglecting the doctrines of the rule of law. It is often said that the leadership in China came on board out of the “barrel of a gun”; this is their basic theory and principle. The lack of freedom of speech and other political freedoms were a major basis for the Tunisia uprising, which eventually spread to Egypt, Libya, and Syria etc.

When, on March 26, 2012, ‎a 27-year-old activist set himself on fire inNew Delhi during a demonstration to protest a visit by China president Hu Jintao, observers commented that this is a sign of change coming to China. NDTV reported that the young man died on March 28, 2012, thus becoming the first individual outsideChinato participate in a suicidal mission, “adding his name to a list of 30 others who have committed same since March beginning to protest alleged authoritarianism by China in Tibet and demanding freedom for their homeland.”

Russia and China have the opportunity to learn from history. Can they maintain authoritarian rule and suppress the will of the people, or will they want to go the way others have gone? These questions will be a focus in the upcoming IPSA conference at NYU.

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About Omoruyi Austin Aigbe

Student at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.

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