THE RUSSIAN DUMA ELECTIONS RESULTS: A CRISIS OF THE REGIME?
"The disgruntlement has been there for a while. If you look at the polls one or two years ago, you will see a vast majority, way over 60 percent saying that civil servants in Russia do not live by the law or that abuse by the police is routine. However, it looks like people were ready to adjust to it and put up with it until it came to this election in which the obvious discontent was precipitated by exactly the factor that you mentioned, Putin's comeback as president after two terms in office. This sense of "Oh no, not for another twelve years" indicated the obvious fatigue that had accumulated. People may have expected him to run again, yet when it was eventually announced the reaction was that of frustration.
Also, the public was insulted by the way the two leaders traded places without even pretending that somehow public participation was involved. They decided it between the two of them and only presented it to the public as a fait accompli. Putin and Medvedev worsened the discontent and frustration that had already been there.
What the press is lacking is an accountability role in which the public can hold the government to account.
Finally what happened in this election was the shameless manipulation and fraud that was evident during the campaign; the harassment of activists, leading websites were under severe cyber attacks, and administrators blatantly abused their authority in order to deliver the desired result of the vote. These sort of shameless violations pushed people to a vote of defiance, in which they would do anything that would undermine the showing of United Russia".
Masha Lipman, "Understanding Putin's setback." The Council on Foreign Relations. 6 December 2011, in www.cfr.org.
"Vladimir Putin still has formidable financial resources, and the police has not yet hesitated to tackle the protesters roughly. The opposition is still split between the so-called “systemic” parties, to be represented in parliament, and the “non-systemic” groupings that are driving the street protests. The population, though increasingly restless, wants the system to improve, not another revolution. All this favours the Kremlin. However, other factors are eroding the regime’s ability to respond to the situation coherently.
Firstly, the United Russia party’s ratings have been falling for more than a year. But the government expected its usual combination of cash injections and vote rigging to maintain its previous parliamentary majority. People’s willingness to turn out and vote for any party but United Russia took the regime by surprise. The vehement reaction to the usual practice of stuffing the ballot boxes was also unexpected. Mr Putin and his team seem to have no “Plan B”.
Courts hand out sentences to protesters – but Russia is not Belarus and Mr Putin is not Alexander Lukashenko. While activists in Minsk serve five-year terms in tough prisons, their Russian counterparts get 15-day spells in city police jails – which merely boost their credibility. As previously apolitical celebrities rushed to the rally, some carried off to police vans in fur coats, one Moscow wit twitted: “Soon you won’t be received in polite society without a spell in a jail”.
This is another bad sign for the Kremlin. It is losing credence with intellectuals, bohemians and with a swathe of thirty-somethings, who have moved from political indifference or even support for Mr Putin to principled opposition. These people are not numerous, but they are educated, travelled, internet-savvy and forward-looking. They are irretrievably lost to the Kremlin and United Russia – and with them the majority in the nation’s two capitals. This is very significant. Both the Bolshevik coup of 1917 and the great anti-Communist revolution of 1989-1991 were decided by active minorities in Moscow and St Petersburg.
This was also the last election in which the government could rely on state-controlled TV to set the agenda. Internet penetration in Russia rose to more than 50m daily users in 2011: people are increasingly reading news from independent sources and comparing opinions with little or no state interference. State media must either ignore the facts, damaging their already shaky credibility, or present what is really happening – and thus contribute to the critique".
Konstantin von Eggert. "Spring comes to Moscow - the tug of war begins." The Financial Times. 7 December 2011, in www.ft.com.
The election results for the Duma in the Russian Federation, and the resulting protests last week-end in Moskva and other cities, with some of the largest demonstrations in the last twenty years taking place have raised questions about the long-term viability of the Putin regime. What does the relatively unbiased observer make of it all? I for one, can see that while it would be extremely erroneous to characterize what has occurred in Russia as a Russian 'Arab Spring', it would also be equally inaccurate to characterize what has occurred as merely a damp squib. What appears to have happened is that the lay, university-educated, liberal-bourgeois, Western-oriented elements in the major cities of European Russia in particular, have in electoral terms revolted against the type of neo-authoritarianism that has governed Russia since mid-1999. Which is not to gainsay the fact that a good portion of the anti-Kremlin vote in the elections, was a protest vote, pur et simple. And that currently there does not appear to be either a plausible candidate to stand against Putin or a plausible political organization to oppose the Kremlin-backed United Russia. Unless of course considers the Communist Party....Similarly, it would be good to remember that the strongest elements of the non-communist opposition, consists of strongly Russian nationalist elements, whose views are quite at variance with the more cosmopolitan, liberal-bourgeois elements that tend to be highlighted by Western journalists. Indeed, it would be a good surmise that if the Putin Regime were to be ousted and or voluntarily fall from power, it is more likelier than not that it would be followed by a much more, xenophobic, nationalist regime and not the Western-style, liberal-bourgeois politicians of the former 'Apple Party' and the 'Union of Right Forces'. Alternatively, it could be that elements within the existing regime, will join hands with former members of the same, like the ex-Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin to expedite a transition to a neo-Putin regime, as sort of 'Putinism without Putin'. As the British commentator, Alex Nice of the Royal Institute of International Affairs recently noted, any sign that the Putin project was in serious difficulty, would result in a situation where "there could be a sudden surge for the exits", by said elite 1. The upshot of the current situation is that after a long period where politics in Russia appeared to be frozen in time, 'politics', 'events' of a unpredictable sort have returned. For good or for ill. With that in mind, one may only care to remember Tocqueville's dictum in his chef d'oeuvre, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution, that:
"It is not always going from bad to worse that a society falls into revolution...The social order destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than that which immediately preceded it, and experience shows that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is generally thatin which it sets about
1. Alex Nice, "Russian Elections: leadership doubts." Chatham House. 5 December 2011, in www.chathamhouse.org.
2. Alexis de Tocqueville, L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution. (1856).