Putin Wins Big in Undemocratic Election
The international community is demanding a probe. Mark John and David Brunnstrom for Reuters:
Europe joined the United States on Monday in demanding Russia probe alleged abuses in an election won overwhelmingly by party, and Germany denounced the poll as undemocratic. European states expressed alarm over the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary poll after rights watchdogs said the campaign had been marred by biased media coverage and abuse of government resources in favor of Putin’s United Russia.
But analysts said there was acknowledgement by many European states that Moscow, whose cooperation the West wants for disputes from Iran to Kosovo, was increasingly impervious to criticism from outside.
Indeed, Putin is taking the criticism in stride.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday hailed his party’s landslide election victory and brushed off opposition charges of fraud that were echoed by foreign observers and European governments. “The legitimacy of the Russian parliament has without a doubt been increased,” Putin told reporters after visiting a space research centre in Moscow.
With 98 percent of ballots counted from Sunday’s election, Putin’s United Russia party had secured 64.1 percent of the vote, giving it more than two thirds of seats in parliament — a majority sufficient to change the constitution.
“It is clear that Russians will never let their country go down the destructive path of certain countries in the former Soviet space,” Putin said, referring to pro-Western popular revolts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.
The Communist Party came a distant second with 11.6 percent, while two other pro-Kremlin parties — the ultra-nationalist LDPR party and the centre-left A Just Russia party — got 8.2 percent and 7.8 percent respectively. Seven other parties failed to achieve the election threshold, making it the first time since the Soviet collapse in 1991 that the liberal opposition failed to win a single seat. The nationwide turnout was 62 percent, but in war-ravaged Chechnya it reached Soviet-style records of 99 percent of eligible voters, according to election officials.
Obviously, one does not get results like this in free and fair elections. That Putin has dragged Russia back into authoritarian rule is a given.
At the same time, though, there’s little doubt that he’s incredibly popular. As AP’s Douglas Birch observes, “Putin is widely credited here with leading his country out of the social and political wilderness of the 1990s when the collapse of Soviet power nearly led to the disintegration of Russian society.” So, while United Russia assuredly wouldn’t have won by these margins in elections held according to international norms, the order of finish might well have been identical.
What happens next is unclear. Putin is constitutionally prohibited from remaining in office past next year. Will he now change the constitution? Or simply rule under a different title?
CNN guesses the latter, which strikes me as most likely as well.
Putin was top of United Russia’s list of candidates, guaranteeing him a parliamentary seat and allowing him to extend his influence when his presidential term ends in 2008, perhaps as prime minister.
“I headed United Russia ticket, and, of course, it’s a sign of public trust,” Putin said in televised comments reported by AP, adding that victory would let the United Russia party cement its power base in the Duma.
Douglas Birch paints a grim future.
There is little incentive for Putin to relinquish power over Russia, which is flush with revenue from oil and natural gas and where his power arguably rivals that of many of his Soviet and czarist predecessors.
Candidates for president may register until Dec. 23. Many are expected to do so, but only Putin’s hand-picked successor seems to have a real chance of winning. Whoever is chosen is likely to be a figurehead, or could even step aside early to allow Putin to recapture the presidential office. Currently the constitution prohibits a president from running for a third consecutive term.
Two-thirds of Russians polled by the respected Levada Center recently said they would support Putin serving another term. But Putin has repeatedly promised not to run, and a reversal would be out of character for the stern, tough-talking former KGB spy.
Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist and political analyst, believes that Putin will become United Russia’s party chief and that the future president would follow his orders – recreating to some extent the Soviet-era model in which the government was subservient to the Communist Party. “A president will be nominated by United Russia, and he will obey party discipline,” she commented recently.
Sunday’s election, meanwhile, eliminated all of Putin’s liberal opponents from parliament. Amended election rules barred individual races that in the past allowed mavericks to win seats.
“We will continue our fight for democracy and liberal values,” retiring deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov told the Associated Press in an interview Friday. “Not in the parliament, but in society. It’s like in Soviet times, we are becoming dissidents because there are no legal ways to be in the opposition.”
Allusions to the Soviet era are hardly misplaced. Indeed, the parallels to the rise of Adolph Hitler, who came to power through the ballot box (albeit in elections impacted by Nazi violence and intimidation) are also hard to overlook.