Vote-rigging, protest 'crackdown': Foreign press on Putin’s victory

Members of an election commission in Veliky emptying ballot boxes after the presidential election is over (RIA Novosti / Konstantin Chalabov)
Voting in Russia has been marred by widespread fraud and violations and Vladimir Putin might find it hard to rule the country he has transformed: that is the verdict the foreign press passed on the outcome of Russia’s presidential elections.

A number of foreign news outlets highlighted alleged violations and vote-rigging at the polling stations during the presidential vote on Sunday.

British daily The Guardian, citing independent monitors and opposition activists, reported numerous falsifications, including ballot-stuffing and so-called “carousel” voting, when groups of voters move from one polling station to another, casting their ballots repeatedly. Many also referred to reports of the illegal use of absentee ballots, and quoted opposition activists who said that with such a rigged victory, Vladimir Putin could not be considered a legitimate leader.

"It's not an election," the Wall Street Journal cited Aleksey Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger and activist, as saying. "Putin had a chance to make at least the counting fair, but he didn't. Tomorrow we'll wake up in a country where a large chunk of society doesn't see Mr. Putin as a legitimate president." 

Following Sunday’s poll Vladimir Putin, who won a landslide victory, will have to deal with a country which has changed greatly since the moment he first came to power, the Washington Post believes.

While back in the 2000s “Russians were impoverished” and “uncertain” of what lay ahead for the country, now a “more prosperous middle class” is becoming increasingly unhappy with the ongoing situation, says the newspaper. 

“Putin <…> finds himself in unfamiliar circumstances,” the report says. “Since December, he has been the target of huge demonstrations in which many thousands have found the courage and solidarity to speak out against him. The outcome of Sunday’s election is unlikely to quell their demands for an honest government that listens to them.”

The newspaper adopted a cautious tone, saying it is still unclear how Vladimir Putin will react to growing anger over alleged election fraud. It said that while Putin might decide to “crack down” on the opposition, the option of the “autocratic regime” bringing in gradual reforms might also be on the table.

As for the Russian protest movement itself, the election results will present it with a serious test of endurance, another newspaper, the Wall Street Journal believes. 

“The loosely organized protest movement now faces a test of its ability to keep up the pressure, starting with a Monday evening rally in downtown Moscow,” the report said.

The British Daily Mail newspaper cited former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s calls for opposition groups and opponents of Putin not to surrender.

“These are not going to be honest elections, but we must not relent,” Gorbachev was quoted as saying. “Honest elections should be our constant motto for years to come.”

­Middle class as Russia’s new political reality

Unlike the anxious musings of its British and American counterparts, the German magazine Der Spiegel noted signs of warming of the political climate in Russia. The magazine said that despite its harsh criticism of the opposition, the Kremlin did allow the opposition on state television on election night, creating a platform for discussion of the election process.

The magazine noted that despite losing to the veteran Communist politician Gennady Zyuganov, independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov stands as a “second winner” in the presidential race.  After the election, the businessman took part in a number of talk shows – a gesture the magazine sees as a “consolation prize” for “disappointed liberals” from the Kremlin. Der Spiegel even cited rumors stating that Putin might appoint Prokhorov as his prime minister as an “olive branch to the rebellious middle class.” However, the billionaire candidate has already said he would not accept the post.

The French daily Le Figaro declared that a new opposition had emerged in Russia which Vladimir Putin would have to deal with. “This movement expresses the aspirations of the new urban middle class, which by its very existence demonstrates the main achievement of the Putin era – taking Russian society out of Soviet poverty,” the paper said. “But the protest expresses despair over the rigid political system.” Following his victory, Vladimir Putin will have to launch a widespread modernization program which will imply openness and a refusal to follow the old Cold War era strategies the Kremlin still pursues, said the newspaper.

Preliminary results show a decisive win for Vladimir Putin in Sunday’s presidential elections. The vote was preceded by a wave of demonstrations to demand fair and transparent elections following the parliamentary poll of December 4, 2011.  Protesters claimed the vote, which brought the ruling United Russia party a reduced Duma majority, was rigged.

Despite opposition criticism and reports of  widespread vote-rigging on Sunday, a number of foreign observers, including Finnish, Italian, Serbian and Bulgarian nationals, said the poll had been without serious violations, Itar-Tass news agency reports. Some lauded the video monitoring system installed to make the elections more transparent as “exceeding all international standards.”

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­Zhanna Budenkova, RT