Russia’s Central Election Commission has issued results that show Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party has lost 77 seats in the 450-seat Duma. The 238 seats they allegedly won give them a 52.8% majority in the legislature, nearly 8% more than yesterday’s exit polls predicted. President Dmitry Medvedev said the election was “fair, honest and democratic” but monitors dispute that assessment, saying the vote was manipulated. “Fraud” is the word many Russians are using. Medvedev is blaming local party officials for the results, saying that they have irritated people. “United Russia did not do too well in a series of regions, but not because people refuse to trust the party itself…but simply because local functionaries irritate them. They look and they say….if that’s United Russia, there’s no way I’m going to vote for him.” Wow, talk about denial. Medvedev seems to have missed the 3,000 to 5,000 people who were protesting in central Moscow, chanting “Revolution” and “Russia without Putin.” Police arrested around 300 of them. The police formed a line to prevent the protesters marching to the Kremlin, but some managed to get through and at least 30 of those were also arrested.
“Officially” United Russia won 238 seats, but somehow says that is less than 50% when it is 52.8%, the Communist Party won 92 (20.4%), Just Russia won 64 (14.2%) and the LDPR won 56 (12.4%). Just Russia is described as “left leaning” and LDPR as “nationalistic.” Three other parties fell short of the 5% needed to have representation in the Duma and a party led by Putin’s first-term Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was barred from the ballot.
Medvedev said that any irregularities or alleged violations of election law will be investigated, but claims there was no major fraud. He might want to start with an investigation into the events surrounding Olga Lazareva’s door.
Lazareva, a communist polling station official, was getting ready to go to the polls for the election when she discovered her front door had been glued shut. She lives in Tula, south of Moscow, and according to election law, she had to be at the polling station to confirm that the ballot boxes were empty before the election began. She called relatives who forced her door open. She told Reuters news service that four other poll workers had similar experiences. “There were unprecedented violations in this election. I have been on the commission since 1990 and I’ve seen a lot, but I have never seen such blatant misconduct,” said Lazareva. Her concerns about ballot box stuffing were confirmed by communist campaign chief, Valentina Mishina. In other polling stations, “When boxes were opened, there were packs of 50,60 ballots folded in half and bundled up, all clearly filled out by the same hand.”
Observers said there were “serious indications of ballot box stuffing” and suggested that United Russia would have lost even more seats if the voting had been fair. They said in their report that the election preparations “were marked by a convergence of the state and the governing party, limited political competition and a lack of fairness.” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, told the press, “The country has never seen such a dirty election,” and called the official results “theft on an especially grand scale.” Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has compared United Russia to the Soviet Communist Party and said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the election was “not the most honest. We do not have real democracy and we will not have it if the government is afraid of their people, afraid to say things openly.” It’s pretty bad when the last Communist leader of the old Soviet Union says your party is corrupt and your election was rigged.
Vladimir Putin has an ego the size of his country and claims full responsibility for bringing stability to Russia after the chaos of the 1990s. He also claims responsibility for the high oil prices of the 2000s that fueled (no pun intended) the economic boom of his presidential years. He told a meeting that a simple majority of 226 was enough to pass legislation and maintain his famous stability. “United Russia has been a significant part of the foundation of our political stability in recent years, so its successful performance in the election was important not just for the government but, in my view, for the whole country,” he said. It is a view that is being challenged by growing dissent, hoards of Russians applying for exit visas and demonstrations being quickly put down. People are not comfortable with Putin’s manipulation of the leadership of their country. After he completed his two terms, he traded jobs with his protegé, Medvedev, becoming the Prime Minister behind the President. Now, he will run for a new six year term and Medvedev will once again be the Prime Minister. Putin’s personal public relations campaign, the never-ending pictures of him being a “man of action” hunting, fishing, horseback riding shirtless, diving to an archeological site to retrieve planted artifacts, all intended to prove to the people that he’s fit and healthy and can be expected to remain so into his sixties, just isn’t impressing people any more.
Though it is still believed that Putin will win the March presidential eleciton, Medvedev’s future as Prime Minister might not be so secure. If the party holds him responsible for their lost seats, he could be passed over for the PM’s position.
The battles over the election are just beginning. The Council of Europe parliamentary assembly had a delegation of monitors in Russia for the election and they verified about 10% of the ballot boxes were stuffed with prepared ballots. The Communist Party is threatening legal action and the LDPR party said that their monitors were evicted from polling stations in the Bashkortostan and Black Sea Krasnodar regions. In the Siberian Chelyabinsk province, United Russia workers were actively campaigning inside the polling stations during the election. Local officials were actually competing for the highest poll results for United Russia because they believed the greater their returns for the party, the greater the handouts would be from the Kremlin. The election monitoring group Golos, whose members have been harassed lately, suffered a cyber attack that shut down the site where they were collecting testimony about irregularities before and during the election. The site had an interactive map for identifying where the violations were taking place. Golos deputy director Grigory Melkonyants said, “The attack was an attempt to close down our reporting on violations, because the violations we have shown reflect very poorly on the people who are in power.”
Only those who know they cannot win fairly rig elections to win unfairly. And it doesn’t matter whether the method is ballot box stuffing in Russia or writing laws to limit access to the polls in America. When a party can’t win on their merits, they can and will cheat.