A seller demonstrates a traditional Matryoshka doll or Russian nesting dolls bearing the faces of presidential candidate and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (bottom) and President Dmitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg March 3, 2012. Russians will go to the polls for their presidential election on Sunday. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk
The Russian electoral commission announced that with more that 99 percent of the votes counted Vladimir Putin received 63.75 percent giving him a first-round victory over the nearest opposition candidate Gennady Zyauganov who gained 17.19 percent support. The election turnout was round 63 percent. “We have won in an open and honest battle. But this has not just been a Russian presidential election, but also a very important test for all of us, for our entire people. This has been a test for political maturity and independence. We have shown that, indeed, no one can impose anything on us. No one can impose anything,” addressed Putin the crowd of his supporters, many of whom had been supposedly forced to attend the celebratory meeting under the fear of loosing their jobs, reported the Associate Press.
“We have won in an open and honest battle. But this has not just been a Russian presidential election, but also a very important test for all of us, for our entire people. This has been a test for political maturity and independence. We have shown that, indeed, no one can impose anything on us. No one can impose anything,” addressed Putin the crowd of his supporters, many of whom had been supposedly forced to attend the celebratory meeting under the fear of loosing their jobs, reported the Associate Press.
This Russian presidential election was highly anticipated and watched event. The tight security lockdown in Moscow and presence of thousands of police forces did not really support the notion of free democratic elections, but were expected in such unprecedented times of massive protests and backdrop of popular discontent with government. The allegations of widespread fraud in favour of ruling United Russia party during December’s parliamentary elections resulted in civic uproars countrywide.
According to the independent observers the factors as the clear advantage in the access to the media, majority of the broadcast presence, mobilization of state resources and restrictions on candidate registrations characterized Putin’s presidential campaign in Russia.
Approximately 220 international observers of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) stationed in Russia came to conclusion: “There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”
While newly elected Vladimir Putin was celebrating his victory, Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist candidate who placed second with 17.82 percent, told reporters after the polls closed that he would not recognize the vote, calling it "illegitimate, unfair and non-transparent." Mr Zyuganov called the webcam experiment “a diversion to distract voters from a dishonest election.”
In order to prevent the accusations of elections being rigged and manipulated, the Ministry of Communication in cooperation with the Central Election Commission installed the web-monitoring system costing 339.8 million euros. Approximately in 91, 700 of Russia’s 95, 000 polling stations two cameras were installed to provide live online broadcast of voting, and thus serve as the watchdog of free and democratic elections. The web-cam system was introduced in response to the complaints of ballot stuffing and falsified vote counts during December’s parliamentary elections.
While it is quite unclear to what extent the cameras were effective, few incidents of unidentified people tossing numerous ballots into polling boxes were caught on web camera. The central election commission had proclaimed that the results from the polling station where incidents occurred were going to be invalidated.
Another interesting figure of this Russian presidential election, as New York Times pointed out, was 107 percent turnout in Chechnya. Putin received more than 90 percent of the vote in several Caucasus provinces, including Chechnya.
Indeed, the reports of volunteer and international election observers on violations of free and democratic elections differ vastly form the elections violations registered by the central electoral commission.
As BBC Monitoring informed the Russian elections were under scrutinizing eye of the League of Voters, a group of volunteer election observers, and an independent election monitoring organization Golos, which registed some 3,000 violations. According to BBC Monitoring the number of incidents noted by the central election commission was 86.
While officially most of the complaints were concerned with the exclusion of people from voter’s lists and absentee ballots, the most common purported violation were according to Golos and independent observers the “carousel voting”, where people supposedly voting away from home were transported by bus from one polling station to another, as well as mass voting by absentee ballots.
Russian anti-corruption campaigner and the most famous Russian blogger Alexei Navalny, who spent 15 days in jail for his participation in post-parliamentary election protests described the election on Sunday: “Putin won't win. He will appoint himself president, an illegitimate president."
Indeed, the perception of what should a free fair democratic election look like is a bit different in Russia. While the international observers and Russian civic organization declared the elections to be manipulated and illegitimate, on the other hand Russia’s chief electoral officer Vladimir Churov proclaimed “more honest elections than those in Russia will not be held in other countries in the near future.”
Vladimir Churov, whom many Russian protesters accused of fraud already during the parliamentary elections in December, even suggested the Web-monitoring system to be used in the U.S. presidential elections, otherwise they “may be considered illegitimate.”
Despite of the allegations of fraud and rigged voting, the attitudes within Russian public differ. While some consider the presidential election “not free or legitimate” and “run by the same electoral commission which stole our (their) votes” at the parliamentary election, others want Vladimir Putin to be a president. And according to the official results, Vladimir Putin has done it once again. He triumphed over his opponents who had been trying to “destroyed Russia's statehood and usurping power."
Vladimir Putin has already served and been in power as Russian president and prime minister for twelve consecutive years. He nominated and supported his ally Dmitry Medvedev as the Russian president in 2008 presidential elections, because of the constitutional limits of enabling only two consecutive four-year presidential terms.
During his reign Vladimir Putin has cultivated the image of being the guarantor of stability and the defender of a strong independent Russia against the hostile international actors and destructive forces. Some Russian people do perceive Vladimir Putin as the guarantor of economic prosperity and social security in Russia.
As a Moscow voter explained to the Associated Press: "Under Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin], life was simply a nightmare, but, you know, now it's OK. Now it's good, I'm happy with the current situation."
Dmitri Medvedev will stay in the office till May. It is assumed that he will assume the post of prime minister, and thus exchange position with Vladimir Putin. Therefore, his latest decisions to investigate the legality of 32 criminal cases including the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky or barring of a liberal opposition group PARNAS from elections, might be perceived as an attempt to lower the scale of protests announced in response to the results of presidential elections.
Tens of thousands pro-democracy protesters gathered both on Monday and Saturday last week in Moscow to denounce the Russian presidential election calling it illegitimate. As it is possible to see on the videos taken by protesters and representatives of media the riot police made hundreds of arrests of peaceful protesters and opposition leaders chanting “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia without Putin!”
Being the leader of the liberal party in Russia is tough. While in Russian parliamentary elections held in December the Communist Party placed second, with about 19.2 percent, followed by the Just Russia, with 13.2 percent, and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, with about 11.7 percent, smaller liberal parties didn’t have a chance of gaining 7 percent of votes to enter the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia’s Parliament (the State Duma).
The substantial gains in both parliamentary and presidential election of the Communist Party and their leader could be explained as a kind of protest against other Kremlin-controlled and supported opposition parties. Thus, many Russians perceive the vote for the Communist Party as a kind of anti-governmental protest vote. In Russia the Communists have been the only non-Kremlin party guaranteed to make it across the threshold.