Putin greets ‘rigged’ election victory with tears

Russia’s most powerful man, Vladimir Putin, has won the presidency for the third time. But this time his victory is marred by protests that threaten to bring an end to his corrupt rule.

Over 100,000 supporters packed the streets outside the Moscow Kremlin as Vladimir Putin mounted the stage. After six years pulling the strings as Prime Minister, the Russian leader had been elected President for the third time, with 64% of the vote. Wiping a tear from his cheek, Putin gripped the microphone with both hands. ‘We have won,’ he said. ‘Glory to Russia.’

In a victory speech, such a statement ought to be uncontroversial. But, as so often in politics under Putin, the realities are murky.

The results were greeted by widespread accusations of electoral fraud. A rash of incriminating videos has surfaced on the Internet that appear to show ballot boxes being stuffed with false votes – just one of many reported deceptions.

And unfair practices were taking place long before polling day. Putin controls the Russian media, and around election time television schedules are packed with his propaganda. Any opponent who nevertheless manages to pose a threat is simply banned from standing for election. The outcome, as international monitors have said, ‘was never in doubt.’

But Putin’s victory was not this election’s only result. Opposition activists, previously subdued, have used it to air their grievances in a long string of street protests. Yesterday, once again, thousands rallied in Moscow and St Petersburg against the seemingly falsified results, and hundreds were arrested.

As a political system, ‘Putinism’ cleverly combines ‘soft’ methods of control with more coercive ones. Putin is a genuinely popular figure: even without fraud he would have easily topped the polls.

But he is also a master of many dark arts. Many journalists have mysteriously died under Putin, and he is said to maintain a file on Russia’s richest men, containing information that could bring about the downfall of any who oppose him.

Now, with demonstrators on his doorstep, these methods face a challenge. If the protests continue to grow he will have to make a choice: soften his authority, or crush protesters by force and shed his democratic facade.

Disputin’ the result

Putin’s angriest opponents say he is destroying Russia’s hopes of genuine democracy. He has made deceit a routine part of political life, abolished freedom of the press and concentrated power in his own hands. He is no better than the Soviet dictators or the tsars, they say: ‘Putin out now!’

More cautious democrats warn that the next move must not be rushed. Demanding Putin’s immediate departure might force him into outright repression or open the door to even more autocratic rulers: communists, the far-right or super-rich oligarchs. ‘Transition, yes,’ they say; ‘revolution, no.’

You Decide

  1. Is it still worth voting if you know the results are rigged?
  2. Is a corrupt democracy any better than no democracy at all?

Activities

  1. Design a pro-democracy placard to be used in a protest against a corrupt ruler.
  2. Design a voting system that prevents electoral fraud and ensures that each person gets one free, fair vote.

Some People Say...

“All politicians are liars.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Has anything that matters really changed?
The main difference is the new assertiveness of the urban middle classes. If they got their way, Russia would look like a very different place – more pro-western, for a start. Putin also paid heavily for his result in promises of increased spending on everything from schools to nuclear weapons. If he keeps those promises, Russia’s economic resurgence could be at risk; if he doesn’t, further tensions may emerge.
But that’s his problem, right?
It’s everybody’s. Even after the fall of the USSR, Russia remains one of the most important players on the world stage. It has over 10,000 nuclear warheads and a huge supply of oil. A rupture in Russia would have an impact everywhere, including Europe and the Middle East.

Word Watch

Moscow Kremlin
Usually referred to simply as ‘The Kremlin,’ this walled group of grand buildings is the centre of power in Russia. In Soviet times it was synonymous with the shady operations of communist power; and the Russian Empire’s tsars also ruled from there whenever Moscow was their capital.
Ballot boxes
‘Ballots’ (objects used to represent a vote) were originally small black balls. Nowadays they are pieces of paper on which voters mark their choice of candidate. When somebody cheats in an election by filling a box with false ballots, this is called ‘stuffing the ballot box.’
Tsars
For over four hundred years Russia was ruled by Tsars. These emperors were hugely grand, and held an enormous amount of personal power. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the last tsar Nicholas II and his family were imprisoned and then killed.
Oligarchs
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s resources were bought up by a group of individuals who suddenly became spectacularly wealthy. Known as the ‘oligarchs,’ they became a powerful force in Russian politics. Controlling them has been one of Putin’s major achievements.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.