Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia for his third term on Sunday with 63.3 percent of the popular vote, sparking major protest movements in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Political science professor Cynthia Kaplan discusses the possibility of election fraud and its effects on Russian democracy with the Daily Nexus.
After his one-year term as Prime Minister to Boris Yeltsin in 1999, Putin served from 2000 to 2008 as the country’s second president since the collapse of the Soviet Union and was succeeded by Drimtry Medvedev. As the Russian Constitution bars a candidate from three consecutive terms in office, Putin returned to the role of Prime Minister in 2008 and has reportedly promised Medvedev the title for this six-year term.
While protestors from Russia’s League of Voters and several international organizations claim that voter fraud in favor of Putin had a hand in the election, the group’s demands for a revote could still leave Putin victorious as the four other candidates only garnered about one-third of the votes altogether.
According to Kaplan, the results illustrate the government’s lack of accountability throughout various electoral steps.
“Both international observers as well as individuals representing different political parties who have been observing at polling areas witnessed a number of practices which were seen as fraudulent,” Kaplan said. “[But] it is a question of having the government be responsive to the voice of its people, so the outcome is not really in question.”
Protestors at Moscow and St. Petersburg comprise a new politically-charged and well-educated generation of Russian citizens, Kaplan said.
Despite the possibility of election fraud, Kaplan said the existence of civic action demonstrates that a more democratic Russia is increasingly probable.
“I think those people who have followed this most carefully have seen that the protests are centered in the political generation that’s culminated since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Kaplan said. “They tend to be urban, fairly well-educated and a good many of them have traveled abroad … so it’s the beginning of a new political cohort that will take time to produce changing preferences but, nonetheless, is important.”
According to Kaplan, the citizens and organizations opposed to Putin’s victory seek a political system that yields to constituents’ wishes.
“There is a very wide spectrum of political organizations that are involved in the protest, which really would agree on very little, but what they do agree about — and what I think the protesters are calling for — is for their voice to be heard in government,” Kaplan said. “They find it insulting that a deal was made between the current president, Medvedev and Putin four years ago, and that it was taken for granted that [the election] would happen without the normal electoral process really playing a central role.”
Despite the massive display of anti-Putin sentiment in the past week, Kaplan said many Russian citizens support the balance the President-elect provided relative to his predecessors.
“It is important to keep in mind that this is a protest at the center, but not throughout the country,” Kaplan said. “There’s a general popularity of the regime outside of the large urban areas, but it’s not based on Putin being some sort of charismatic leader, but rather the stability that he’s offered. The question is whether people will be satisfied with that stability over the term.”
Putin may deliver on certain campaign promises such as a stronger role in the international community, Kaplan said.
“During the electoral campaign, Putin made it very clear that he was for a strong Russia — a Russia that was being threatened by external powers, and in that way you may read the United States and potentially EU,” Kaplan said. “The question is: was this basically rhetoric for a campaign to gain nationalist support? Or was it really him announcing a shift away from the West and perhaps potentially towards reconstructing some sort of Eurasian alliance?”