This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.
One way to begin writing about the March 4, 2012, presidential election in Russia is with some irony, as Mark Adomanis did on his Forbes blog, The Russia Hand:
Well, in what is surely one of the more shocking developments of the past several months, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin just won the election to become Russia’s “next” president. […]
Or, as Craig Pirrong did on his Streetwise Professor blog:
Tsar Vlad the Lachrymose has won his electoral bid to return to Russia’s presidency. This result is hardly surprising (though for a while there was some question as to whether he would win in the first round). […]
Another way to approach the topic is by being serious and straightforward about it, as Katherine Brooks was on TOL's East of Center blog:
The presidential elections in Russia took place on March 4th amid various claims of fraudulent behavior at the polls. Despite the presence of 30,000 trained volunteer election observers and the installation of webcams in more than 90,000 polls in Russia, nearly 1,000 irregularities were reported by midday with Russia’s League of Voters tallying 3,000 reports of fraud by day’s end. In particular, there were numerous complaints of “carousel voting” – wherein a group of voters is bussed from polling station to polling station to register their vote multiple times. […]
Either way, when writing about this past Sunday's election, it seems impossible to avoid mentioning the allegations of voting fraud and its implications for Putin and the Russian citizens.
Adomanis, in his post quoted above, wrote:
[…] The question over the scale of the fraud is not merely an interesting academic exercise, though it is certainly that, but something that offers very meaningful insight into the likely course of Putin’s third term. An election which was free of the most blatant and absurd irregularities (i.e. official results which flatly and blatantly contradicted exit polls and other pre-election opinion polls) would suggest that team Putin was slightly humbled by the recent spate of popular protests and recognized the need for conciliation and change. An election that was just as blatantly rigged as the last one would be rather more ominous and suggest that Putin was not humbled but angered by the recent weakening of his position. […]
After reviewing some of the Western media assessments of the alleged fraud, Adomanis concludes:
So, unfortunately, what the presidential election seems to suggest is a Kremlin that is dead-set on keeping power and that will use any and all of the bewildering arsenal at its disposal. Expect things to get worse before they get better, and expect there to be some increasing nastiness in Russian society as the anti-Putin opposition become ever more radicalized.
Pirrong wrote this in the post linked to above:
[…] The key issue in the near to medium term is whether it is widely perceived in Russia-and among the elite especially-whether Putin really won decisively (as he claims, winning 60+ percent), or whether a far narrower margin of victory was grossly inflated by fraud. The more widespread the perception that Putin felt it necessary to manufacture a huge margin, the more vulnerable he will be. In contrast, if it is widely accepted that his margin was legitimate and largely untainted by fraud, his position will be strong, at least in the near term. […]
[…] International observers stated that the elections were fair and transparent, with 89% of all voting locations performing as excellent, 10% – with “minor technical” violations, and 1% with “major violations as reported by the observers.” The nearly half-a-billion-dollar expense on 130,000 web cameras has certainly paid off for Putin – any Russian citizen could watch the elections online at www.webvybory2012.ru to follow the real time voting action at any of 90,000 locations across the country. Most likely there were violation. However, doubtfully they would amount to anything but a margin of error […]. […]
Kyle Keeton and his wife Sveta, of Windows to Russia blog, spent the night of the vote count watching webcams installed at polling stations “all over Russia”:
[…] We found very little variance all over the Russian country and I will post an hour long boring video in the next few days. […] The fact is very little cheating happened and it was very much in the eye of the camera at all times. People worked hard to ensure a proper election and to tell otherwise is to insult that thousands and thousands of people that spent long hours at a tedious job…
Putin won and that is that! […]
Anatoly Karlin of Sublime Oblivion came up with a detailed preliminary analysis of “the degree of fraud,” based on the election data available at the moment:
[…] My assessment is that in these elections it was on the order of 3%-4%, which is lower than my estimated range of the 5%-7% fraud in the Duma elections, but still far too high by developed country standards. The geographical distribution of fraud has changed significantly: Moscow actually appears to be very clean this time wrong (in stark contrast to 2011, and 2009). However, there were little to no changes for the better in the ethnic minority republics, which is where the great bulk of the falsifications are now concentrated. […]
Andy Young of Siberian Light compared this election with the December 2011 parliamentary vote:
[…] After the December’s Duma election debacle, I had held out some hope that the Presidential election would be a bit fairer and increased scrutiny (via webcam, no less) might temper the fraud we’ve seen previously. Alas, I can’t really see any improvement worthy of note and Russian elections still don’t pass the smell test. […]
He also shared some thoughts on the future of the Russian opposition:
The real damage to [Putin's] aura of invincibility won’t come from the election result, it will come from a reinvigorated opposition.
[…] One of the main reasons that Putin has had such an easy ride over the past decade is that there has been no opposition to speak of. And this year’s election was no different – at least, when it came to the candidates.
[…] I expect the protests to die off pretty quickly after the election, but I think in 6 years time they will have proved tremendously valuable in kickstarting a genuinely engaging opposition movement in Russia. I have no idea what that opposition will look like – will it be co-opted by the current opposition or will a new grouping emerge? But I’m fascinated to see how it develops.
Mark Galeotti of In Moscow's Shadows asked more questions on what happens next:
[…] Will the current, largely negative movement begin to cohere around a positive platform of reforms and leaders, and then create the political machine to build a national campaign? Will Putin crack down (I don’t expect more than some moves against ‘disloyal’ elements of the media)? More to the point, given that he has pledged directly and indirectly to spend on social programs, economic diversification and military modernization, pledges he cannot possibly all fulfill, whom will he disappoint, and what will this mean?
Galeotti compared the changes taking place in Russia now to “the shifts of continental plates”:
[…] trying to watch them move is rarely dramatic. I suspect much the same can be said about this election. Big Stuff is happening, but that doesn’t always mean gratifyingly quick or dramatic. […]
Brian Whitmore of RFE/RL's The Power Vertical expounded on Galeotti's metaphor, noting, among other things, the role of the Internet in today's Russia:
[…] thanks to deeper and broader Internet penetration, Russia now has its first horizontally integrated generation.
Previous generations have been vertically integrated, whether through the Orthodox Church, the Komsomol, or, more recently, through youth groups like Nashi.
But with Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte, LiveJournal, YouTube, etc, like-minded Russians are now able to connect with each other — and organize — from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok. And they can do so independent of — and most often in often in opposition to — the regime.
The process is still in its infancy, but this Power Horizontal will, over the long haul, make it very difficult for Vladimir Putin's Power Vertical to go on with business as usual. […]
This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.