In Sunday’s Parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation, Putin’s party United Russia won an incredible 64 % of the seats, which together with the two supporting parties gives them an absolute majority of the Duma and the rights to make constitutional changes. The only opposition party, the Communists, gained 11.5%. The skewed power balance is partly the result of new electoral regulations making it hard to register parties for the elections and further the increased threshold from 5% to 7%, making it increasingly hard to enter the Duma. But the result also mirrors a Putin’s domination of media, state resources, and voting control.
Rather then staging fake elections Putin has relied on a large media and state control to secure the landslide victory – a victory even more important for Putin as he is constitutionally not allowed to run for a third term as president in the presidential elections in March 2008. Opposition has lacked access to information channels and media, something increasingly important in such a large country as Russia. Putin’s party, United Russia has also chosen not to take part in debates, putting them in an unchallenged position standing above scrutiny and debate. There are also claims that Putin has told governors to achieve 64% for United Russia, and that large state employers have been pushing their workers to vote, partly trough postal votes, to secure the election results. A 90% support for United Russia, with a 99% voting turnout, in Chechnya also does not seem very realistic…
Surprisingly Russia earns a big A for the technical arrangements of the elections, with little harassment at the polls and a perceived legitimate counting of votes at large. In a sense this mirrors Russia under Putin quite well – increasingly professional but with a complete lack of underlying ethic and democratic values. It also shows the confidence Putin sets to his dominance of everything from media to state employees.
Russia under Putin: increasingly professional but with a complete lack of underlying ethic and democratic values.
With the strong pro-Putin results from the parliamentary elections it remains interesting to see what role Putin will assume after the presidential elections in March 2008. After the elections he declared himself as “Russia’s Leader”. Will Putin enter as Prime Minister, will he be an invisible hand behind the scene or use his absolute majority in the Duma to change the constitution to allow him to candidate again? In any case we are sure to not have seen the last of Putin, and Russia is increasingly unlikely to take a different direction after the presidential elections in March.
It also remains interesting to see the reactions from the international community and particularly the EU that have tended to use mild tones in order to support their economic interests in Russia. Are they prepared to stand up against Putin’s show?
US’s first press statement chose only to mention some allegations about irregularities on the election day – surely not the major issue when looking at the past years where new laws and state dominance has secured the landslide victory of Putin’s party this Sunday. Probably the EU is also likely to settle with relatively small complaints – after all Russia remains a strong economy and ally in the war on terrorism. It is just that a undemocratic one-party Russia has not proved to be the solution for this in the past… hmmm