On Sunday, March fourth, the Russian presidential elections took place. Russia and the world looked on as Putin’s vote count rose exponentially higher, making him for his third (non-consecutive) term the President of Russia. This time, the presidential term will last for six years.

The Candidates and Results:

  • Vladimir Putin of United Russia, 64.59%
  • Gennady Zyuganov of The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, 17.07%
  • Mikhail Prokhorov, 7.18%
  • Vladimir Zhironovsky of The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, 6.29%
  • Sergey Miranov of A Just Russia, 3.76%

Notable Events:

  • Putin crying as his victory becomes clear

On the ground:

A day before the elections, my Russian classmates were discussing if they would vote and who they would vote for. The main sentiment was no one knew who they wanted–they just knew it wasn’t Putin. Teasingly, one of the students turned to me and went, “Hey, Sarah, are you voting tomorrow?” I laughed and started to pretend that, well naturally I would! The teasing question made me realize, however, that if I were them, I wouldn’t know who to vote for either. There never was any realistic, united opposition against Putin for people to agree upon and rally behind.

On Sunday, as Putin’s vote count rose ever higher, I was naively shocked. After all the demonstrations and all the negative I’d been hearing, how was this happening? I asked a Russian adult, who responded, “Well, it’s corrupt, of course.” Her opinion was that Putin certainly has a large, stable group in Russia–but it’s not over 60% of the population. The numbers were too high. After discussing this, she said, “Well, I’ve been thinking about it. He’s young. He’s energetic. He’s done this before. Maybe he won’t be too bad.” As ever, Russia looks forward in hope for her future.

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Nate

Yesterday Russia held its presidential elections as scheduled, and as assumed (if not actually scheduled as well), Vladimir Putin won nearly 65 percent of the vote. Having served two terms as President from 2000-2008 before conceding the position to puppet leader Dmitri Medvedev, Putin is now set to rule in Russia for the next six—or more—years.

Many outside of Russia have been familiar with these elections for the last several months due to unprecedented outpourings of people into the Moscow streets against Putin as early as December. While images from these protests and reports of their massive numbers encouraged Western onlookers, these actions were too little too late if the hope was to keep Putin from extending his stay in the Kremlin. Indeed, the demonstrations were doomed from the start, falling victim to their directionless energy and expression in much the same way as has befallen the Occupy movement around the world.

That is not to say that Russia’s public antagonism toward Putin will end with his victory; indeed, as opposition groups currently amass in the larger Western cities, how Putin will handle their animosity is perhaps the largest question mark in the public mindset today. What will severely hinder the legitimacy of the demonstrations, however, is that their rallying cry for clean elections has been delivered without the desired result. Instead of nominating a face to take on Putin, the amorphous demonstrations took on the formless foe of opaqueness, allowing the reigning United Russia party to deliver sufficiently clean elections while the opposition remained unprepared, and in doing so renew their own credibility without much added threat.

What Putin will do with this reaffirmation is anybody’s guess, but a guess of “nothing new” will probably be close to the mark. This is the exact opposite of what usually happens back home: having been elected, a candidate usually claims a “mandate of the people” and mobilizes his platform to change the political situation, but here the status quo is painted gold with a pessimistic eye toward change. The elections were rife with repetition. Of the four opposition candidates, three of them had been running unsuccessfully for at least twelve years. Mikhail Prokhorov, the single new face, didn’t seem to get it, claiming a desire to end Russia’s world-famous corruption and unify with Europe and the Euro zone.

The saddest part of these elections is how clear it has become that Russia still does not understand how a democratic system functions. That Putin is even a candidate does not bode well for the country. He has amended the Constitutional limits on presidential power from two terms to two consecutive terms, and the people have overwhelmingly supported him in this with no regard for the system that ostensibly prohibits such concentration of power. After talking with people both for and against Putin, the only reason I can come up with to explain this is lack of comprehension, and lack of competition. State-run channels are dominated by the man, interrupted regularly but briefly by shots of Medvedev (for now) and Obama. In many respects, domestic news reports amount to little more than reviews of what Putin did today.

It comes as no problem that the ruling United Russia party is effectively without a platform, because other parties have completely failed to modernize, feeling the heat from those in power since the before the end of the Soviet Union. Europe may have its Social Democrats, but out here there are only the Communists, headed by the same Evgenii Zyuganov that wracked Yeltsin’s nerves with a second round of voting some five elections ago. Despite an entire lack of appeal, Zyuganov still won 17% of the vote this time, and Prokhorov, a man with no party whatsoever, took another 7%. This means that at least a third of the voting populace (another 10% voted for opposition candidates) is demanding a viable second point of view, but much like the demonstrations in Moscow, this energy has yet to find a real conduit into national politics.

What is more, at least 20% of Russian voters claim to not know who to vote for until the day of the vote, and most of these vote for the incumbent. Given a law that a candidate must win 50% plus one vote to be elected, it is clear that, despite all the fear, corruption, insecurity, and nebulous information surrounding Putin, he still won largely as a result of a “who else?” mentality and an overwhelming fear of the political unknown. Unfortunately, Russia remains a country where an electorate with no initiative and a trust in government little deeper than their television screens repeatedly votes for a man with no new ideas and a history of corruption and misgivings toward positive change.

These next few days might give some insight into what to expect from the new Putin presidency as protesters make their way into the streets once again. Will he crush the opposition with force, perhaps at the cost of his reputation, or will he allow the hostility to continue unhindered, opening up the possibility of further undermining his already-crumbling power structure of bribery and fear? And what of the protests? Will they die without the fuel of corrupt elections, or will they survive to actually make an impact on Russia’s political reality? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that, six years from now, winning the presidency will be an uphill fight for any candidate, Putin included.

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Today, the 10th of December 2011, demonstrations calling for fair elections in Russia were held all over the country. In the city of Yaroslavl, the demonstration began at 3:00 on the Square of Youth (Площадь Юности). It was approved by the government through negotiations with demonstration leaders. Information about the protest was passed along through social networks, primarily VKontakt (the Russian equivalent to Facebook). Discreet, black-and-white signs were posted around the city preceding the event.

The demonstration was under close watch by the police. The square was barricaded with metal fences, with the only points of entry being four metal detectors. The police inspected bags and purses while protestors filed in. Speakers called for fair elections and declared the results of the December 4th elections the results of corrupt dealings on the part of United Russia. The speakers were careful to state that they did not want revolution and were met with chants of “Нет революции!” “No revolution!” They simply wanted fair elections.

Reporting from the Golden Circle,
Sarah

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There are a few quick things I’d like to say about these posters: firstly, they were not easy to find. I spent quite a while hunting around Yaroslavl for these with my camera. Secondly, the poster that was spotted in my university was the only political poster I’ve seen on our campus. Interesting, huh? It isn’t even for a specific party. It’s just letting students know that there will be an election, and by the way, it’s the 4th of December. Thirdly, I really wanted a picture of the ЛДПР advertisement that’s painted on the side of the bus that says in big letters “Россия за русских!” This means, “Russia for the Russians,” and something interesting to note here is that the word “русский” automatically has an ethnic connotation, as opposed to “российский,” which implies a Russian citizenship. And that was an add for the “Liberal-Democratic” Party. It’s always hard to get a picture of that one before the driver takes off, though….

Here are some translations that should help our readers who are not Russian speakers. They begin with the Communist Party poster (that would be the one with all the red) and go  in order from there.

 
КПРФ: Коммунистическая Партия Российской Федерации
Сегодня актуально красное: За победу большинства!
Communist Party of the Russian Federation
Today is truly red: For the victory of the majority!
 
ЛДПР: Либерально-демократическая партия России
Вместе с Вами наведем порядок в системе ЖКХ!
Обращайтесь за помощью:
[Три адресы, четыре номера телефона]
4 Декабря Выборы депутатов Государственной Думы ФС РФ шестого созыва
Проявите свою гражданскую позицию!
Не дайте украсть свой голос!
Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia
Together with you, we’ll bring back order to the Housing Services system!
Call for help:
[Thee addresses, Four phone numbers]
December 4th Elections for the Duma deputies  of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, sixth convocation
Show your civil position!
Don’t let your voice be stolen!
 
ЕР: Единая Россия
4 Декабря Выборы
Инвестиции и развитие
ВАХРУКОВ Сергей Алексеевич
United Russia
December 4th Elections
Investment and development
Vakhrukov, Sergei Alekseevich
 
ЕР: Единая Россия
4 Декабря Выборы
Опыт и надежность
ВОЛОНЧУНАС Виктор Владимирович
United Russia
December 4th Elections
Experience and reliability
Volonchunas, Victor Vladimirovich
 
ЕР: Единая Россия
4 Декабря Выборы
Поддержка и доверие
ТЕРЕШКОВА Валентина Владимировна
United Russia
December 4th Elections
Support and trust
Tereshkova, Valentina Vladimirovna
 
ЕР: Единая Россия
МЕДВЕДЕВ Димитрий Анатольевич
4 Декабря Выборы
United Russia
Medvedev, Dimitri Anatolievich
December 4th Elections
 
ЕР: Единая Россия
4 Декабря Выборы
Нас объединяет Россию
United Russia
December 4th Elections
We unite Russia
 
4 Декабря
Выборы депутатов
Государственной Думы России
December 4th
Deputy Elections
For the Russian Governmental Duma