The era of strongmen is witnessing terminal consolidation, with Russian voters agreeing to allow Vladimir Putin to nominally seek and indubitably secure office for two more terms, surpassing Stalin’s record. The conditions under which the agreement was wrested remain contested. Sadly, some people will always complain about the means when they should focus on the ends — a Pax Putinica which will remain patent even when many of those cavilling voters are doddering about with orthopaedic canes. The Russian referendum promises stability for 16 years in a desperately unsettled world, beset by health challenges and erosion of the eternal geopolitical verities everywhere. Even if the only tangible certainty is the persistence of Putin, it means something. Okay.
In 2018, in a similar rubber-stamping exercise, the National People’s Congress amended the Chinese constitution to remove a two-term cap on the presidency. This signified that Xi Jinping could remain president forever, returning the world to the era of Lenin, Stalin and Chairman Mao. Hitler and Mussolini, too, though they went fast. The only contemporary parallel was North Korea but now, two global powers have joined the list. Other world leaders stand in line, eager to test the temporal limits of temporal authority.
When the referendum process began, the Economist had published a leader headlined, “A Tsar is Born”. About Xi, the world was baffled in an Orientalist manner — this is how they do it in the inscrutable East. But now, there are other strongmen in the fray, including the orange-top on Pennsylvania Avenue who has tried to destroy NATO, the UN and the WHO and, having failed, is now trying to self-destruct. How will the world frame his exploits, and those of his eternity-seeking friends on foreign shores?
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