This scene of political victory and elation masks a darker scene of a presidential triumph won by fraud, illegitimacy and theft.
Even the tens of thousands of so-called supporters, obediently waving flags at their leader, are said to have been predominantly made up of government workers and employees of state-owned companies who had been ordered to attend the victory speech and celebrations outside the Kremlin on Sunday March 3.
The police presence in Moscow and other Russian cities was heavy on Sunday night following the announcement that Putin had won the election, presumably in anticipation of public displays of opposition towards the results. Whilst not much trouble did occur in Russia on Sunday, three young women who had run topless through the polling station where Putin himself had cast his ballot were arrested.
One of the women had the word “thief” written on her naked body, a poignant symbol of the air of mistrust, resentment and doubt that hangs over Russia over the legitimacy of Putin’s historic win.
Mass Protests in Russia
Mass protests about alleged vote-rigging and malpractice began in Russia in December of last year, after a parliamentary election took place and resulted in observers producing clear evidence of extensive vote fraud.
Protesters in the tens of thousands took to Moscow’s streets, in the largest outbreak of public antagonism in post-Soviet Russia, with protesters claiming that the parliamentary elections had been rigged by “carousel voting”, which effectively means voters are driven around in busloads to cast multiple ballots at various polling locations.
According to a report in the Associated Press, Golos, Russia’s leading independent elections watchdog, said that it had received numerous reports of “carousel voting”, and after last week’s polls had closed, Golos said the number of violations appeared just as high as in December.
“If during the parliamentary elections, we saw a great deal of ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting… this time we saw the deployment of more subtle technologies,” Andrei Buzon, head of the monitoring operations at Golos told the Associated Press. (3)
In the same report, renowned Russian protestor, Alexei Navalny, who coined the phrase “the party of thieves and crooks”, said that observers who had been trained by his organisation had also reported witnessing voting violations such as carousel voting. Talking about how important a first-round victory was for Putin, Navalny said in the Associated Press report:
“They said that a second round would be bad, unreliable and would show weakness. That’s why they falsified the elections.”
In what he described as being an “unfree and illegitimate” election, Navalny also pointed to the fact that independent candidates were not allowed to register and take part in the election, and that Russia’s state media “worked for only one candidate.”
Mikhail Gorbachev Speaks Out Against Russian Elections
Reiterating the seemingly widespread belief that Putin’s victory in the elections was dishonest is Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, who has shown increasing opposition towards Putin’s rule.
After casting his ballot, Mikhail Gorbachev had told the Associated Press:
“These are not going to be honest elections, but we must not relent.” (4)
While Moscow and other Russian cities were relatively demonstration free on the day Putin’s victory was announced, the following day on Monday – Putin’s first day as the re-elected president – was met with numerous challenges to the legitimacy of his “win”, including charges of fraud from international observers.
Thousands of anti-government demonstrators gathered in Moscow’s square, vilifying Putin’s victory as illegitimate, collectively reciting “Putin is a thief; we are the government” and “Russia without Putin.” (5).
Riot police arrived at the demonstration and 250 people were detained, including Alexei Navalny, who is one of the most prominent figures in this wave of ant-government activism.
The thousands of protestors, who gathered in Moscow and St Petersburg on Monday, March 5th, were claiming that Putin’s regime had sought to guarantee victory. According to a report in the Telegraph, opposition activists had recorded more than 4,000 instances of alleged vote-rigging that rendered the contest illegitimate. (6).
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Putin also stands accused of having not faced any “real competition” in the presidential elections.
His competitors included the, according to the Associated Press, “clownish nationalist” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets Basketball team, Mikhail Prokhorov and socialist Sergei Mironov.
These remarks were made by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which, according to the Boston Globe, had also said Putin had unfairly benefited from lavish government spending on his behalf.
In the wake of the results, Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party candidate and runner up to Putin, blasted the results, saying the election was “Illegitimate, dishonest and transparent”, and that his party would not recognise the official results. (8).
This sentiment was shared among the other candidates with the far-right Liberal Democrat candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky also refusing to recognise the official result.
Back in the 1960s, David Frost tersely joked on his satirical show “That Was the Week That Was”, that “Thieves broke into the Kremlin last night and stole next year’s election results!”
Fifty years later, it seems little has changed in Russian politics.