As the world witnesses a level of globally synchronized political rhetoric (the weavings of the, “impending,” war in Iran, for instance) in light of imminent coinciding political elections, France, Serbia and Greece have already opted for hopeful change in place of apparently perpetual austerity. However, the Russian elections show a state steadfast on continuity – at least on paper.
In typical grandiose fashion, Vladimir Putin celebrated his re-installment during Russia’s Victory Day amid choreographed marchers and showcasing the latest intercontinental ballistic missiles to roll out from the averaging- seven-percent- annual-increase-since-2000 economy’s factories. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony – during Russia’s most heralded holiday that celebrates victory over a fascist dictatorship, scores of demonstrators were detained for protesting perceived injustices by a regime becoming increasingly dictatorial.
Putin took the election with a landslide 64 per cent victory – 45 per cent above his closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who refused to acknowledge the voting outcome. Election monitors in December suggested State Duma elections were skewed in United Russia’s favor. Similar sentiments were expressed in the March election which secured Putin’s third term in office. Later, members of a presidential Human Rights Council resigned in protest, complaining that Putin is “an illegitimate president.” The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe(OSCE) concluded that on voting day, election was assessed positively overall, but the “process deteriorated during the vote count which was assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities.” The OSCE estimated a 10 per cent inflation of Putin’s vote. Additionally, though all competitors had access to the media, Putin was given obvious prominence.
But it is the sheer volume of dissidents which give the claims of fraudulence a certain level of credence – almost 50,000 demonstrators turned out to protest during Putin’s inauguration, with over 400 arrested, according to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev. The next day, just outside the Kremlin, 120 people were detained, and on March 11, roughly 15,000 – 20,000 demonstrators showed up on Novy Arbat Street. Protesters shouted “fascists” during the scuffle, and pictures have been surfacing everywhere, showing a politsiya member punching a man already in submission, and another raising his baton over a cowering old woman during the “march of the million” opposition protest in central Moscow. Political repression is common symptom of dictatorships, and is especially apparent when grounds for detention include “unsanctioned” protesting.
Putin responded to the OSCE’s allegations of irregularities by stating that such blunders are inevitable, and may have only produced a slight (“maybe one per cent”) margin of error. And perhaps he has grounds to say this, given his history of landslide victories and the fact that Russia’s rapid growth rate provides a degree of justification for United Russia’s continued reign. But with Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency resembling blatant puppetry, and Putin’s recent re-election, the reign is beginning to look like a guised dictatorship. Despite Putin saying he was in favor of term limits before his inauguration, the country’s constitution was curiously amended to extend the presidential term from four years to six before he formally took office.
Putin is likely to continue expressing anti-Western sentiments in efforts to reign in support during his third tenure, having already dismissed the aforementioned photographers as being “…intended for the West alone,” as quoted by state-run news agency RIA Novosti. “We have never acted like this, but nevertheless, someone apparently needed this provocation.” Additionally, the 2007 Time magazine’s person of the year’s spokesman suggested police were too “gentle” with demonstrators.
Putin will assume control of a $1.9 trillion economy – vulnerable to oil-price fluctuations and under pressure from Putin’s ambitious pre-election promises: attracting foreign investment by improving the business climate; reducing corruption and red tape; and ending Russia’s heavy dependence on energy exports. Meanwhile, western media sources such as the National Post are predicting a reinvigoration of civil society stemming from the protests surrounding election fraud.Aschille Clarke-Mendes hails from Trinidad and Tobago and is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, studying Political Science and History. He has plied his trade for the Barbados Nation and Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. He enjoys jazz music and playing chess.