Vladimir Putin’s presidential victory draws protests; observers call election skewed

March 5, 2012

Russian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Putin’s victory in Sunday’s presidential contest drew thousands of demonstrators Monday:

International election monitors pointed at the lack of real competition and said the vote count “was assessed negatively” in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.

The violations in the vote added fuel to Monday’s protest in downtown Moscow by Putin’s foes, who are demanding an end to his 12-year rule. The rally, which follows a series of massive previous protests, has been sanctioned by authorities but security was tight, with some 12,000 police deployed to ensure order.

The Washington Post’s Will Englund reported on a possible attempt to allay opposition concerns:

[Outgoing president Dmitry] Medvedev promised a government review of the conviction of former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has become a political prisoner of sorts, and of the decision that prevented a liberal political party from fielding candidates in Sunday’s election.

That decision — which effectively handed control of the elective process to Putin’s party — was a main theme of complaints about the voting by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In an attempt to make the voting more transparent, Russian polling stations were outfitted with live webcams. But a few of the devices captured unexpected scenes:

While most live feeds broadcast scenes Saturday evening of vacant voting halls, one showed a lively retirement party, complete with toasts, while others beamed images of dancers getting down on the disco floor.

Uploaded screenshots from footage of a polling station at a school hall appear to show a clothed couple in an amorous embrace on top of a table.

After the results were announced on Sunday, Englund and Kathy Lally reported:

Putin, who captured a reported 64 percent of the vote, finds himself in unfamiliar circumstances. Since December, he has been the target of huge demonstrations in which many thousands have found the courage and solidarity to speak out against him, and the outcome of Sunday’s election is unlikely to quell their demands for an honest government that listens to them.

The protesters, newly enraged by reports of violations Sunday, are still untested in commitment and strategy. No one knows whether Putin will crack down and they will refuse to submit, or whether he will seek accommodation and gradually reform the authoritarian regime as they hope. One test will shape up Monday, when thousands plan to demonstrate on Moscow’s Pushkin Square.

But, even as some Russians look back at Sunday’s vote, one German official is already looking ahead ; specifically, whether Russia’s policy toward Syria will change. As the AP reported:

Now that campaigning is over in Russia and Vladimir Putin has sealed his return to the presidency, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he hopes Moscow will rethink its approach.

“I hope that Russia now, after the elections and with a clear view, will see that it stands on the wrong side of history, and that the people in Syria who are standing up for democracy and their freedom need solidarity from the international community,” Westerwelle said.

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