Now when certain time has passed since the day P. – the day of elections of Putin – we can reflect on our future a little bit. It is still not totally clear but some evaluation can be already made.
Elections were not fair from the very beginning. Only “trusted” candidates with no chances for victory appeared on the list. The only real alternative candidate from Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky was refused a candidacy because of allegedly false signatures gathered in his support. The truth is that the fact that 36% of 2 million signatures were false was acknowledged only by the central election committee, which is known of its loyalty to Putin and United Russia. Long time before elections everyone knew that Putin would win. The only question was if he would win in the first round or in the second.
Great amounts of frauds during elections were expected and it did not come as a surprise when we heard observers reported about them. Even though Yabloko lost its candidate we still were preparing huge amount of observers in different regions. We thought it was important for us and for people who wanted to see with their own eyes how elections would go. For example only in St.Petersburg we trained about 1500 of observers preparing them for a really tough job. And unfortunately we were right about those problems that they came across later.
First of all many observers were not allowed to enter polling stations because of fake reasons. Those who managed to get in saw impressive cases of frauds. We have organized a hot line for observers where they could ask for legal help and report violations. There we had everything: people voting several times on different polling stations, ballot staffing, police officers removing observers from polling stations, chairs of local election committees escaping with final protocols. All was usual. But the most awful fraud was know-how of these elections – fake temporary polling stations. Few days before elections St.Petersburg election committee opened around 100 additional temporary polling stations in factories, hospitals and entertaining centers. Of course our observers were sent there on the election day but… they could not find them at all. Nothing was there except unfriendly security guards. Although when the election results were published on the official web-site we could find these disappeared polling stations, and the results there were not surprising – around 90% votes for Putin.
That is how he “won” in the first round.
What was next was also predictable. Massive protests were already scheduled for the evening of the next day. Great number of people who were not satisfied with their stolen votes, even a greater number of police forces on the streets, military vans brought there just in case – that was the picture on March 5, 2012 in Moscow and St.Petersburg. When police started to detain people during a peaceful demonstration it became clear that the next 6 years would not be more democratic in Russia. With this understanding the next demonstrations gathered less and less people because those who went on the streets after the State Duma in December elections and Presidential elections in March are not professional opposition or desperate people who do not have anything to lose like in Arab countries during the Arab spring. They are quite wealthy and educated; they just do not like to be fooled by Putin and his team. These people do not want to escalate a violent conflict still hoping for political change initiated by the President. They showed their attitude and now it is his time for reply.
The political change was indeed initiated by the President. At least its imitation. At least by the current president Medvedev (Putin will officially come to power in May.) New laws liberalizing policy towards registration of political parties and direct elections of regional governors were pushed through the Federal Parliament. Now it is expected that to register a nation-wide political party you need only 500 people. I have more friends on my Facebook, so basically everyone will be able to have their own political party. Of course it is liberal idea but too radical. We experienced that in early 90s and now we are back there with no development. A huge amount of weak parties will again decrease people’s belief in the institution of political parties itself.
Same happens with the initiative for direct elections of governors. Elections are going to be direct but the candidates will have to be approved by the President which makes a whole story useless. Again we are observing now not a real willingness to introduce political freedom but another type of imitation of freedom. Good ideas as usual were exaggerated and became ridiculous. It is not unusual that people are really fed up with such kind of things. Now there are two ways left for Putin.
The first one is to start listening to people and introduce political reforms step by step. This is the most preferable scenario which needs high level of involvement and control from people on every level – from municipalities to national ministers. If people keep an eye on bureaucracy every day it will be necessary for Putin to implement reforms in order to have support and stay in power further.
Another scenario can copy a Belarus situation. Being afraid of losing power Putin might keep everything as it is, concentrate power in his hands, ignore and silence the protestors. But this is a dead end. He can ensure a kind of stability only till the next economic difficulty, for example a drop in oil prices. Then Russian fake stability will be gone, many people will be left with no money, they will indeed have nothing to lose and it might cause a kind of revolution, violent, with a lot of victims. Obviously this is not a scenario which is wanted by most people who went recently out on the streets.
Can we do something to push towards the first more preferable scenario? Yes, we can. We need to work with people, keep them involved in political and civic activities, try to control each and every official, and show to Putin that we are not going to give up. Then maybe if not him then his comrades will make a right political decision and save Russia from another collapse.