So, how would you respond if someone called you in late October and said, “Cast four votes for Mitt Romney and we’ll pay you $70.” Outrageous idea, right? Not in Russia it isn’t. Journalist Sergei Smirnov received that phone call, as did dozens of other young voters. The difference was, Smirnov was undercover in the vote fraud squad, following the trail of Vladimir Putin supporters who were doing anything legal or illegal to assure Putin’s third term as President of Russia.
With tears flowing down his face, the once and future President of Russia addressed his faithful, and/or paid, supporters Sunday night in Moscow to announce he had won the presidential election with 65% of the vote. He averred that he had won a “clean” victory, preventing the nation from falling into the hands of its enemies. “I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia!” he said. And glory to the power of the Russian rouble.
A Putin aide, eager to dispel the idea that Mr. Macho would cry in public, said Putin’s tears were caused by a biting cold wind. Putin’s people had set up video links to factories across the country so his base could share in his moment of triumph. Nothing like knowing what the election results will be in advance, is there?
Putin served two four-year terms until term limits said he had to give up the office. He literally turned it over to his protégé, Dimitri Medvedev for four years and took the office of Prime Minister. During those four years, they got the Russian Constitution amended to allow two six-year terms for a President. Putin allegedly plans to be President for the next twelve years, with Medvedev as his Prime Minister, and then they will swap jobs again for another twelve-year run.
Ever since the contested Parliamentary elections last December, Putin and his party have been under attack for rigging those elections so that the party retained control of the Duma. There have been a series of protests across the country, and more are planned. Putin framed the dispute in terms of class warfare. In his victory speech, Putin said that the opposition was attempting to “destroy Russia’s statehood and usurp power. The Russian people have shown today that such scenarios will not succeed in our land….They shall not pass! You put them in their places, those people who went one step too far and insulted the working man. You showed who the Russian people are, the Russian working man, the worker and the engineer. You showed that you are a head higher than any layabout, any old windbag. This was for me the biggest present.”
So, Russia’s greatest export will continue to be its young educated men and women, people who can’t find decent jobs with a future.
The election results were not a surprise. All analysts, both inside and outside Russia, said that Putin would win, and most had assumed the win would be rigged.
The main opposition parties have disavowed the election results, particularly since there was such a disparity between exit polling, which showed Putin with less than 50% of the votes and the official results (with several precincts still unreported) of 65%. Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, one of the organizers of the opposition, explained what he sees in the future. “The social base of the protest is going to grow and Putin, with his team did everything wrong to make this happen. He really helped us. He is forcing things to breaking point. He is declaring war on us. As a result, the base of aversion to him is growing.” The base of the opposition is in Russia’s cities and among its educated young people, much like the opposition to Middle Eastern leaders like Qaddafi, Mubarak, Saleh and al-Assad. Modern technology and communication have made it more difficult to control ideas in any population.
Analysts are already predicting that this will not turn out the way Putin expects, and that the opposition will grain strength over the next few years, denying him first the majority in the Duma and then the next Presidential election. The key may be in the opposition persuading those young educated Russians to stay and fight instead of emigrating.