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March 05, 2012

Putin Re-Election Marred By Widespread Voter Fraud Allegations

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As expected, Vladimir Putin declared victory in the Presidential election in Russia. It would mark the third go-around as President for Putin, after a stint as Prime Minister. Since his first Presidential run in 2000, Putin has remade Russia in his image, centralizing power, crushing dissent (particularly in the media), and basically instituting a kleptocracy.

So it should come as no surprise that opposition leaders alleged widespread incidents of voter fraud pushed Putin over the 50% mark, rather than a fair count.

“It is clear that the slim hopes that the election could be fair have not come true and as we expected the vote was conducted with massive serious violations,” said Grigory Melkonyants, deputy executive director of Golos, a Moscow-based election monitoring association. “The falsifications were multilevel.”

Zyuganov refused to accept the tally, saying “the entire state machine, corrupt inside out, was working for one man on the ballot, Vladimir Putin.”

Another presidential hopeful, metal magnate and NBA team owner Mikhail Prokhorov, said he would file court action. Prokhorov, whose campaign team had placed observers in polling stations throughout Russia, cited numerous violations in favor of Putin.

The Washington Post carries more allegations on the vote, including multiple voting, ballot-stuffing of absentee votes and mistreatment of election observers. This mirrors the allegations from Parliamentary elections in December, which touched off widespread protest around the country, with as many as 120,000 gathering for one demonstration in Moscow.

This has pierced the aura of invincibility around Putin. But in many ways, the election was a prelude. Now comes the question of how Putin, ensconced in power for the next six years, will react to protests. The Kremlin gave permission for demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. Beyond that, the future is uncertain. Moscow saw an extra 6,500 police officers on the streets over the weekend. And at some point, Putin may order a crackdown. He basically ran the election against shadowy outside forces, unnamed, who sought to determine the course of Russia. You can easily see how Putin could connect those outside forces to the protesters in the mind of the public.

Nonetheless, the anti-Putin activists are undaunted. One of them, Masha Gesser, appeared on NPR’s Fresh Air last week, and detailed the rise of Putin (she has a new book out on the subject) and the reckoning to come. I recommend listening to it, as it will provide good context for the coming days. Here’s a representative quote:

“Our audience is not Putin. Our audience is everybody else and largely it’s the police and the military, who will eventually — maybe it will happen March 5th — maybe it will happen later, but eventually when Putin feels threatened enough, he will consider using force. And my greatest hope is that by that time, neither the police nor the military will be willing to use force against people who are protesting this regime.”

UPDATE: International monitors allege that the election was “skewed” in favor of Putin.

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