Few components of liberal democracy are more indispensable than the right of the citizens to choose new leaders. Something very different was on view yesterday in a televised charade staged by Vladimir Putin. The president made a show of accepting a recommendation by four compliant political parties to back his protege, Dmitri Medvedev, in presidential elections next March. The Kremlin boss was demonstrating that the highly centralised power system he has built lacks the marrow of a genuine democracy.

Among Putin’s likely successors, Medvedev may be the most pragmatic. He is also the only one unaffiliated with an old-boy network of KGB veterans. But even if Medvedev is the best choice among Putin’s possible successors, there is nothing to celebrate in the way he was chosen. The image Putin has moulded of a leader who concentrates all power in his own hands, purging disloyal media moguls and energy barons while standing up to meddlesome Western countries, has fostered an idolatry of the state and its master.

In this political climate, a vote against the master’s chosen successor becomes an act of disloyalty to the state. If Putin has anything to worry about, it is that Medvedev will now have all the power accrued to the boss of Kremlin bosses. Czars don’t share power willingly.