Yesterday, Russia held presidential elections. In case you’re not in on the Russian political loop, Putin won. With over 60% of the vote. In second place was Zyuganov, the Communist candidate, with about 17%; and the other three candidates, Prokhorov (independent), Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democratic party), and Mironov (Just Russia) got less than 7% each.
Like last time, I went with Nils and Liv to the polling station in our university building to see what was up. There were more people this time than last, and also a fancy red carpet on the floor of the old gym where the voting took place. Emboldened by a full five months in Russia, I furtively took a few photos — not illegal, but still, I wasn’t sure whether it would be frowned upon.
Later that night, Nils came downstairs to watch the commentary on TV with Łukasz and me. There was a great post-election show on the supposedly pro-Putin First Channel, where a whole host of journalists, former politicians and spin doctors, foreign observers, opposition leaders, and others, gathered together to argue about what the election results mean. It went on for over three hours, and it was really interesting. All the losing candidates and some other people involved in the elections would come on and speak for five or ten minutes to the host of the show, and then they would leave and the others would respond.
They brought up a lot of things, insisting on widespread falsifications, carousels (bussing people from one polling place to another to vote multiple times), and on and on. One man declared that they needed to change the national anthem, bury Lenin, and get away from all the Soviet vocabulary still in the language. Another lamented, “unfortunately we have many idiots.” And then the foreign observers spoke up. These are people unconnected with Russia who attend the elections at a particular polling place and observe the proceedings, acting as an objective point of view regarding falsifications and transparency. Both the observers who spoke– an Italian woman and a Hungarian man who is an official of some sort from the EU– insisted that what they observed was completely honest and correct, and that the accusations of falsification were being overstated.
Those opinions came as a shock on a show that’s already pretty shocking by its openness, considering this same channel didn’t even mention the protests in December (after the Duma elections) until several days after they’d started, when Medvedev told them to. Today, watching the afternoon news, there were even more foreigners declaring the electoral process smooth and clean. There was an American with an awful Russian accent, whose mispronunciations suggested that he was reading a transliteration and didn’t actually speak a word of Russian. There was another man who spoke in English with an accent I couldn’t place, who said, “It is incorrect to say that everything went well; everything when wonderfully.” These come as an uncomfortable contrast to the long line of Russians repeating anecdotes and statistics about cases of fraud across the country. And after you think about it for a moment, they also come as a curiously subtle contrast to the vehement accusations of meddling that have been flung at the U.S. since the protests started in December. Maybe I’m just paranoid after living here for five months, but it feels like the Russians on TV are carefully being portrayed as over-emotional and radical in comparison with even-tempered Westerners who reiterate Putin’s tearful affirmation last night that “We won in a fair and clean battle!”
Add to that the bantering radio hosts I heard on the bus today who asked, laughing, “Why does everyone think politics are so serious?” and you get the sinking feeling that the momentum that built up between the two elections is just going to peter out with this apparent failure.
Rays of hope for continued and increasing civic involvement include:
The consensus [more or less] that the issue is not whether there actually was falsification, but the fact that people believe there was falsification; the problem is the lack of faith in the government.
Before the election even happened, both opposition groups and pro-Putin groups had planned demonstrations. Tonight at 7pm there will be a protest in Pushkin Square in Moscow, and there was a Putin celebration on Manezh Sqaure last night. A protest in Arkhangelsk was also rumored, but I couldn’t find any details, and when I went looking for it today, it seemed nothing was going on. But on the news later, I saw that there had been a protest elsewhere in the city, attended by over 1,500 people, according to the police.
Certain things, such as the 99.76% of the vote Putin won in Chechnya, where ethnic tensions make such a number impossible to believe, must have some effect on even the most apathetic of citizens.
- A fun interactive map that shows the percentages each candidate won in each region.
- Sean Guillory’s nice, accessible article about the aftermath of the election results.
- Live stream right now of the Honest Elections protest on Pushkin Square (which for some reason is showing the Putin supporters’ rally instead…)
- Putin’s tearful victory speech last night.