With ‘Election’ Over, Putin Faces a Changed Country
The three-month “Moscow Spring”—a series of large, pro-democracy protests, from the first opposition gathering on Chistye Prudi on December 5th, to the latest anti-Putin rally on Novyi Arbat on March 10th—has changed Russia beyond recognition. Although Vladimir Putin was, as expected, declared the “winner” of the March 4th presidential election, the principal traits of his 12-year rule: invincibility, impunity (for the regime), and indifference (on the part of society), have been wiped out. His unchallenged rule is over. The tacit deal—economic prosperity in exchange for political freedom—that much of Russian society accepted a dozen years ago is off. The country’s educated and increasingly affluent urban middle class, which was the driving force behind the recent protests, is demanding a political voice.
Even by official results from the Central Electoral Commission, the majority of voters in Moscow, Kaliningrad, Omsk, and Vladivostok voted against Vladimir Putin. If past experience is any indicator, the loss of big cities marks the beginning of the end for authoritarian regimes: Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic after the Zajedno protests of 1996-97 is a case in point. Putin’s overall official result of 63.6 percent differs sharply from vote tallies verified by independent poll monitors across Russia: 53 percent from the League of Voters; 50 percent from Golos; 49 percent from Rosvybory; 48 percent from Citizen Observer. Parallel vote counts, though, do not tell the whole story. According to estimates by monitors, up to 20 percent of votes on March 4th were cast by people on “additional voter lists”—a hallmark of Russia’s 2012 election. This was an update on the old-fashioned “carousel voting,” on a much larger scale: people supposedly employed in enterprises “with a continuous work cycle” were allowed to vote outside their home precincts—multiple times at different polling places. How many such virtual “votes” were added to Putin’s official result on March 4th will probably never be known.