Vladimir Putin cemented his supremacy over Russia’s political system when his ruling United Russia party took three quarters of the seats in parliament in a weekend election, paving the way for him to run for a fourth term as president, Reuters reports:
Opposition activists and European observers questioned how free and fair the vote had been, however, although there were no immediate signs the result might spark street protests of the kind which erupted after the last such election in 2011. … Liberal opposition parties failed to win a single seat. Dmitry Gudkov, the only liberal opposition politician to hold a seat before, said he had been beaten by a United Russia candidate whose chances he said had been lifted by poor turnout.
“The question now is…how to live with a one-party parliament,” Gudkov (right) said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the elections had been marred by curbs on basic rights and a lack of distinct political alternatives.
The state machinery favored the ruling party during the campaign and on voting day, according to Golos, an independent monitoring group. It received reports of ballot-stuffing and multiple voting, including one in which a bus full of workers was seen at seven Moscow polling stations. Some state employees reported pressure to vote for United Russia, Bloomberg adds.
Yet the Kremlin’s window-dressing has provided a small opening for a new generation of opposition activists—most notably, from Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia movement—to appeal directly to Russian citizens and present them with a democratic European alternative to a regime of nepotism, authoritarianism and isolation, Vladimir V. Kara-Murza (left) writes for World Affairs.
Golos noted that these elections were cleaner than the previous ones, but that they still fell far short of free and fair, given the inherently unequal playing field non-UR candidates have to face, CSM’s Fred Weir reports:
The biggest red flag is the extremely low voter turnout across the country in Sunday’s election. Just under half of voters came out, far below the 60 percent who took part in the last Duma polls. In Moscow, always a bellwether, fewer than 30 percent cast ballots. Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, hit an all-time low in voter turnout of just 16 percent.
Experts say that suggests Russia’s heavily stage-managed political system has failed to engage public trust, and that could spell trouble for the presidential elections that are just over the horizon.