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Duma vote falls into disrepute, Russian winter might still snowball

Duma BuildingWhile contrary to international reports protests have not rocked Moscow, ongoing postmortem sees Sundays Duma vote fall deeper into disrepute, and there is potential for a mini Russian winter in the capital. International reports of troop-defying mass protests in Moscow are a huge exaggeration. While Monday saw a largeish 5000-strong rally in downtown Moscow protesting electoral fraud, yesterday 500-1000 protestors were disbanded by police, and overshadowed by a 2000 strong pro-Putin rally by the youth organization Nashi.

But ongoing postmortem analysis including whistleblower accounts of vote-rigging mean Sundays Duma vote Monday is sliding deeper into disrepute. With international voices raised against the vote, and Moscows blogosphere debating their strategy - there is still potential for a mini Russian winter in the capital as the country moves towards presidential elections in March that are likely to see Vladimir Putin return for 12 years.

The Duma vote is falling deeper into disrepute. Associated Press goes today where no man has gone before in running an extensive anonymous interview with a chairman of an Moscow precint electoral commission. According to the chairman, his workers stuffed ballots all day Sunday, but it still was not enough to get the desired result for Putin party United Russia: So he talked the problem over with his commission and the decision was reached that United Russia would be given 65% of the vote, with some compensation votes being redistributed to the Communists.

The chairman also told AP that election workers had been trained on how to stuff ballots quietly, and demonstrated how to fold a stack of 30-50 ballots in half, hide it under a jacket and slip it noiselessly into the ballot box.

According to the official, in Moscow the four main managed parties United Russia, Liberal Democrats, A Just Russia and the Communist Party, negotiated how many votes each would get in district precincts: United Russia initially wanted 68 to 70%, but eventually settled for around 65%, the official told AP.

The actual United Russia vote for Moscow was however 45%, but an exit poll conducted by FOM polling organization put the United Russia vote at only 25% in Moscow.

Overall United Russia polled 49.6%, 16% down from their result in 2007. The result in fact surprised with the extent of United Russias drop in vote, despite the obvious use of electoral fraud. The result also seemed to be broadly in line with nationwide opinion polls and exit polls.

But the AP report tallies with numerous anecdotal reports and also Internet video clips showing instances of apparent egregious electoral fraud, especially in Moscow - demonstrating how Internet in Russia has become a force to be reckoned with.

The Putin/Medvedev administration showed signs of nerves yesterday, with Interior Ministry troops reported moving through Moscow. A small attempted pro-democracy protest was broken up by riot police, and it was the pro-Putin youth movement Nashi that had the numbers holding a rally attended by 2000.

Following Mondays initial protest of around 5000 in Moscow, international voices including US secretary of state Hilary Clinton and EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton spoke up yesterday to criticise the Duma vote.

Deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov, seen as the grey cardinal of Russias managed democracy system, seemed to be losing his grip, or sliding into self-parody. In response to the protest mood in Moscow he suggested founding a new party for discontended city-dwellers.

The electoral rot in Russia set in big time with the Duma elections in 2007. In hindsight, there clearly a target set for United Russia to achieve a constitutional majority of two thirds in the Duma, in order to subsequently change the constitution. In 2008 the Duma duly voted to extend presidential terms of office to six years, and Duma convocations to five years. This then paved the way for Vladimir Putin to return to the Kremlin as president for an additional 12 years in 2012, after the 4 year pro-forma interim presidency of Dmitry Medvedev.

Shortly before the 2007 elections, in a shock decision long-serving and highly respected chairman of the central electoral committee Aleksandr Veshnyakov was replaced by the current bearded wonder Vladimir Churov. Churov had no prior experience of organizing elections, and has shown himself to be a slave of United Russia, which has largely merged with the electoral commission.

There is little doubt that Vladimir Putin still has a core support among the population of 45%. But there is a growing feeling that, with the Byzantine maneuvering and fraudulent votes perpetrated to get him back in office for twelve years in 2012, he may have jumped the shark: losing his media-backed reputation among ordinary Russians as an honest broker and straight shooter. The blatant involvement of his entourage in the corruption and insider dealing Russia is rife with may also void his reputation as the man who outed the oligarchs from the Kremlin.

In particular, the apparent sharp drop of support for United Russia in Moscow, and corresponding surge in electoral fraud, combined with the accumulation in Moscow of Russias politicised and networked blogosphere, could see some new new protest movement emerge a Russian winter as the country moves towards presidential elections in March that will see Putin return for a further six or twelve? years.


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