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Jewish World Review
Dec. 6, 2011
/ 10 Kislev, 5772
Stealing elections badly in Russia
Perhaps the only ballot worse than a rigged election is a badly rigged election, and even by Russian standards the Kremlin's attempts to sway the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary elections were particularly clumsy.
The rigging began when the Kremlin limited the participants to seven tame parties, including the second-place Communists, who are practically a subsidiary of Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia. The most outspoken opposition groups ware barred from the ballot.
Before Sunday's vote, there was an orchestrated campaign against Golos ("Vote"), the country's only independent election watchdog, even though it is financed by Western governments, including the U.S.
There were attacks on Golos by state-controlled media, by Putin's allies in parliament and by Putin himself, who compared the organization to Judas. State prosecutors launched an investigation, and as the election approached there were stepped-up hacker and spam attacks and robo calls to jam the switchboard.
The fear in the Kremlin is that the West is trying to launch a Russian Arab Spring or a Ukrainian-style Orange Revolution, neither of which seems likely but may be a disturbing reflection of a growing distance between Putin and his advisers and the Russian people.
His staged photo ops, showing him in a variety of manly pursuits, are becoming a target of ridicule, and in an unscripted appearance Putin was booed at a public event.
Russians seem to increasingly resent Putin's vision of "sovereign democracy," which appears to mean that democracy is whatever the Kremlin says it is. And Putin's popularity, perhaps even more so than most leaders', is tied to the economy's well-being, which in turn is tied to the wild swings of the energy markets.
Putin has already served two consecutive terms as president, and he met the constitutional requirement to run again by sitting out a term, swapping the presidency for the prime minister's job. He will run for, and likely win, another presidential term, since extended to six years, in March.
Sunday's election was marred by widespread allegations of fraud -- ballot stuffing, illegal voting and the eviction of monitors from polling places by riot police. Even so, United Russia seems to have received 50 percent of the vote, a steep drop from the 64 percent that allowed the party a free hand in legislating.
Turnout was down a third, perhaps representing an apathetic "why bother?" attitude on the part of the electorate. A crooked election is never a mandate, and while Putin will emerge victorious, he may also emerge a much-diminished politician, no longer the indispensable man.
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