Vladimir Putin is still the tsar of all the Russias, but a few flakes of rust have appeared on the iron fist. United Russia (URP), the political party of Vladamir Putin, appears to have won a majority in Parliament in Russia’s most recent elections. It is not quite the majority Putin would have wanted, and he had to fight hard to win what he did — allegations of vote rigging and intimidation are swirling in the news today. The FT reports:
Russia’s ruling United Russia party battled to hold on to its majority in the lower house in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, in a huge blow to the Kremlin’s political standing.With 96 per cent of ballots counted on Monday, United Russia had 49.54 per cent of the vote, down from 64.3 per cent in 2007, which would give the party 238 seats in the 450-seat parliament.The fall in support represents a serious humiliation for the hegemonic party, which has been the target of an opposition fed up with what it claims is official corruption, having dubbed it the “party of crooks and thieves”.
It seems clear that in a legitimate election the United Russia Party would have lost its parliamentary majority. Much work went into producing this result and in a genuinely fair election URP vote would shrink considerably. As the FT article continues:
During the voting, Russian authorities launched a full-scale political crackdown against both opposition groups and neutral observers, evidently aimed at trying to intimidate people from questioning the results of the election.In an effort to quell disturbances, police questioned and even detained some well-known activists, while a number of news websites often critical of the Kremlin were mysteriously silenced by hackers as voting got under way.
There is no liberal consensus in Russia, however. The second largest party are the Communists: they won about nineteen percent of the vote over the weekend. Put that together with United Russia and you do not have a majority for what anyone in the West would regard as genuinely democratic rule.Nor is there a serious political opposition in Russia. The opposition is fragmented by personal and ideological differences. Putin remains the master of Russia. In the short term anyway this may be a good thing not a bad thing: the alternative isn’t a more moderate, less corrupt and more friendly government.Putin managed to stop the rot and the breakdown in Russia after the chaos of the Yeltsin years but only by binding the country to a heavy and inflexible state; the bureaucracy and the state were so powerful and corrupt that no real market or civil society has managed to take shape. Now the iron framework is beginning to rust.For now, the URP will be able to find enough friends to maintain its power in the Kremlin and in Russia as a whole. Money is the mother’s milk of politics in Russia as well as here, and Putin has many ways to persuade some opposition legislators to come on side. The spring election will be more aggressively managed if need be.The current tsar of all the Russias remains securely on his throne.