Putin Rebuffed

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Elections under Vladimir Putin’s “managed democracy” have become grimly predictable affairs. Rampant fraud and bans on all but fringe or manufactured opposition parties have ensured that Putin’s United Russia Party routinely triumphs in a landslide, with Putin then trumpeting the results as a vindication of his authoritarian regime. This weekend’s parliamentary elections largely followed this script but with a surprise ending: United Russia failed to capture even 50 percent of the vote, a major setback considering its blatant manipulation of the election and one that highlights the extent of the Russian public’s discontent with the country’s corrupt one-man, one-party rule.

That this weekend’s election was a mockery of fairness goes without saying. Serious opposition parties were prohibited from taking part, while governors and mayors across the country were issued specific quotas for votes that they were required to meet. There were countless reports of young people being transported from voting station to voting station so that they could vote multiple times. So extensive was the vote rigging that some regions of Russia reported election turnout exceeding 140 percent. Elsewhere, United Russia claimed support that echoed the fixed elections of the Soviet-era. In Chechnya, the domain of Kremlin-installed dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, United Russia claimed 99.5 percent of the vote.

While party apparatchiks rigged the vote, Russia’s state-owned television stations, the source for most of the national news, churned out a steady stream of pro-Putin propaganda. One notable target was Golos, Russian for “voice,” the country’s sole independent election monitor. Harassed by police and smeared as traitorous by the media, Golos was also the victim of cyber-attacks, which shut down the organization’s web site, including an online map that allowed people across the country to report voting violations. The websites of the country’s few remaining independent media, such as the radio station Ekho Moskvy, were also shut down, as was LiveJournal, Russia’s leading blogging host.

Considering the efforts expended by United Russia to engineer its latest landslide, it is all the more notable that it not only failed to achieve it, but actually lost votes, with some of the largest losses coming in the major cities. In St Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, United Russia garnered just 34 percent of the vote. Overall, the party won less than 50 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent in 2007. In a low-turnout election, the majority of Russians who voted gave their support to the only other parties available, mostly communist and extreme nationalist parties.

It’s hard to see the results as anything but a rebuff of Putin. While the prime minister has enjoyed high approval ratings, inflated by the absence of a critical press and any curbs on political opposition, there are signs that he may have overreached in recent months. In September, Putin announced that he would seek the presidency again, meaning that that he could be in power until 2024. That announcement was not unexpected. It has been widely understood that Putin’s decision to yield the presidency to his former deputy Dmitri Medvedev was a temporary arrangement, one that would allow Putin to maintain his grip on power from behind the scenes. Nonetheless, Putin’s accompanying statement that the decision had been made long ago was startling in its brazenness and confirmed that any hopes Russians may have had of political reforms were hollow.

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  • StephenD

    Maybe "His Eminence" Obama can take a lesson from this. It may not be all it's cracked up to be…that lust for power. Wanting to be The Most Illustrious Potentate may make you tingle for a little while, it doesn't last with the folks. Even your "army" of union thugs and entitlement drones will eventually tire of you.

  • steve Grutzmacher

    I'd like to check James Carville's travel history for the last several months. This Russian thing has got his signature tactics all over it. He's made a grand living teaching despots to foment hate and class warfare as accepted tools in the pursuit of power. Hillary Clinton, Paul Bagala and Carville took political warfare to a new level in the early 90's to push there guy through the door.

    • CurmudgyOne

      Haha — if Carville was helping Putin run this campaign, I sure wouldn't want to be in Carville's shoes right now!

  • mrbean

    BEIJING — The Chinese committee that awarded this year’s Confucius Peace Prize minced no words in honoring the winner, Vladimir V. Putin, prime minister of Russia. It praised his decision to go to war in Chechnya in 1999. “His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war impressed the Russians a lot, and he was regarded to be capable of bringing safety and stability to Russia,” read an English version of the committee’s statement. “He became the antiterrorist No. 1 and the national hero.”

    Hmmmm…. Sure looks like Putin has China as an ally. The naive "Obambi" and "Charwoman" Hillary Clinton as Putin calls them are jokes to the Chinese leadership.

  • Stan Lee

    The leader of Russia's only independent polling place monitor, Lilya Shibanova, was arrested in days leading up to this recent parliamentary election. Her laptop computer was conficated. State-owned media also aired a vicious attack on her organization's integrity. A full-scale crackdown was launched against the Russian media,
    When opposition activists tried to stage a concert in Ekaterinburg, RU, the power went suddenly and mysteriously dead.
    Major opposition parties were excluded from registering for ballot places, refused access to airwaves, and no major debates were allowed between representatives of opposition forces and Putin's party, United Russia.
    Many Russian people are desperate, in the wake of Putin's intention to declare himself President for life.

  • Ben

    "Arab spring" lesson is not understood. Russians are seeking not the freedom,but the same "stability" which declares Putin.Emotional Russians seriously discuss Arab spring and financial non-stability of the West. Putin neglects "sacred" instrument of Russian power by creating the puppet figure of the president and then impudently throws him out,besides his games with the nationalists added confrontation between the "new" nationalists and traditional imperial nationalists panicking of Russia`s disintegration.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    OK it was a close election, maybe some of the Russian voters actually
    voted but guess who is going to disappear in the near future and count
    votes in Siberia, the vote counters do you suppose?………..William

  • Ben

    Russian political evolution is relativly slow so in an indefinite future Russia can get the Egypt`s scenario where Islamists will be changed for reds and browns. The time of this events will be defined as always by minority regions I think.

  • jewdog

    Vladimir Putrid and his KGB Kleptocracy wheeze into he top slot by a nose. Now to help Iran nuke the Jews, not surprising for a country that allied itself with the Nazis in the Molotov-Robbentrop Pact.
    One of these days we'll have a president that realizes that Russia is a degenerate enemy state and act accordingly.