Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A blow for United Russia

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party lost its constitutional majority following Sunday’s State Duma elections – but in a vote observers say was plagued by irregularities, United Russia will narrowly retain just over 50 percent of the seats.

The opposition has meanwhile gained new seats in the Duma, with some critics pointing out that leaders of opposition parties that have made it onto the ballots are ultimately subservient to United Russia leaders.

United Russia’s vote went down to just below 50 percent, which translated into 238 out of 450 Duma seats – much worse than in the 2007 election, when the party won two thirds of the seats. The Communist Party (KPRF) came second with a total of 92 parliament seats, or 19.15 percent votes.

The moderate Just Russia took third place with 13.17 percent (64 seats) and the nationalist Liberal Democrats (LDPR) gained 11.66 percent (56 seats). Voter turnout was about 60 percent this time, which is 3 percent lower than in 2007. Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Elections Commission, blamed this year’s lower numbers on a snowstorm on Sakhalin Island.

Three parties – Patriots of Russia, Yabloko and Right Cause were unable to get any seats in the Duma. Yabloko, which gained about two million votes, twice as much as in the previous election, says it will contest the results.

Under Russian law, votes cast for parties which didn’t make it into the Duma will be distributed between the parties which did – which essentially means that most of the votes cast for Yabloko will go to United Russia.

In response to Sunday’s vote, blogger and professional spin-doctor Marina Litvinovich posted smiling pictures of President Dmitry Medvedev alongside Russia’s leading opposition politicians – reminding her readers that the opposition in the Duma is viewed as having close ties to the Kremlin.

Different regions showed a dramatic political split. The Chechen Republic, ruled by the authoritarian Ramzan Kadyrov, showcased voter turnout at 99,51 percent and granted up to 99,48 votes to the ruling party. Dagestan also overwhelmingly voted for United Russia, while in Sverdlovskaya, Kaliningradsky, Altaysky and Primorsky regions United Russia had the lowest regional scores, dipping below 38 percent.

Putin will win anyway?

United Russia party members expressed confidence that their candidate, Vladimir Putin, will win the upcoming presidential election.

“We’ll do our best to make him win in the first round,” said Andrey Vorobyev, the head of the party’s central executive commission, at a press conference on Monday.

At the same time, the party appeared to be distancing itself from President Medvedev. “We still don’t know if Dmitry Medvedev plans to join United Russia, we will clear it up as soon as possible,” said Vorobyev.

Some experts believe that the political landscape in Russia will now experience positive changes. “Political life in the country will be more dynamic - and the ruling party will have to work harder to draw in voters,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Fund think-tank.

Many opposition party members said they were pleased with the elections. “The country refused to support United Russia – we won in many cities, in Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Bratsk, Arzamas, Nizhny Novgorod, for example,” said Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communists, at a press conference.

Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov said that there were “outrageous” violations at polling stations in St. Petersburg. Mironov wrote in his blog that election officials “are blatantly rewriting the records.”

Just Russia deputy Alexei Kovalyov was arrested when trying to enter the territory of the election committee in the Vasileostrovsky district of the city. Mironov, meanwhile, threatened he would lead people in the streets and demand justice.

Golos, an independent election watchdog, promised they would publish the map of violations during the elections “despite the enormous pressure from the violators.” In the days leading up to the elections, the organization was attacked by hackers and defamed by various media sources.

“Many Golos members were blackmailed and intimidated by their employers or educational institutions – however, unlike a political party, we have nothing to agree on with violators, we won’t be maneuvering and will try to bring to light all the violations during the elections,” said Grigory Melkonyants, the deputy head of Golos.

Golos said that some 250 of its members were not allowed to supervise the elections, while the violations recoded were outrageous. “The abuse of administrative resource was dramatic this time – all budget organizations, schools, hospitals, administrations, made their employees vote, and also ‘recommended the party to vote for,’ and that’s besides the ballot violations and carousel voting,” said Melkonyants.

On election day, a number of websites went under attack, including the website of Golos, as well as such publications as Bolshoy Gorod and The New Times, which are critical of the Kremlin.

Vladimir Churov said the Central Electoral Commission will investigate violations when they get official notice of them and said he was “laughing” at violation reports when he saw them on the Internet

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