Calls for a new election in Russia after allegations of corruption, fraud and vote fixing.
2011 has definitely been a year of protest. The Arab Spring has seen thousands of people rise up against dictators who had previously ruled with an iron fist. Some movements in the Arab Spring have been successful and some have not, but even those who have not achieved their goal yet have shown the world how powerful protesting can be. Another substantial protest movement in 2011 has been the Occupy Movement where people in cities all around the world united against the “one per cent” who they believe to be to blame for the recession and current state of the world’s economy.
This week has seen another political protest dominate the headlines. 4th December saw Russia hold its Legislative Elections, which determined which political party would hold the majority in the State Duma (Lower House of the Federal Assembly of Russia). Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party saw a large decrease in support but maintained the majority with 49.54% of the votes, compared with 64.30% in 2007. Despite the large drop in support there were many allegations of vote fixing in favour of the ruling party, United Russia. A drop in support at this election was expected as Putin was booed at a public appearance last month although the boos and jeers were edited out and replaced by applause on state owned national television.
5th December there was public outrage as many people believed that the election had been fixed in favour of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the United Russia Party. The allegations against United Russia were fuelled by claims and rumours that voter turnout had reportedly been up to 140% in some areas and that United Russia had 99.5% of the support in other areas (although these figures have not been confirmed and are unlikely to be accurate). Protests began in Moscow and it is estimated that up to 8000 people protested on the first day. Many people believed that the election had been a sham and called for Putin to step down as Prime Minister and Leader of the United Russia party, some also demanded a re-election.
The protests increased over the next couple of days and the government used riot police and soldiers to tackle the peaceful protests. Hundreds of people were arrested including Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy Prime Minister and Alexey Nalvany, a well known political blogger and activist. Although there were mass arrests, luckily no one was seriously hurt or killed when protestors clashed with police this week and hopefully any further protests in Russia will not result in serious injury or fatalities. The Russian government have been condemned by human rights organisations for their alleged mistreatment of protestors and journalists. Hundreds of people have been arrested while protesting peacefully or reporting on the protests and it is feared that the government are just arresting people to quash the resistance even if they were protesting peacefully and within the law.
As the media in Russia is mainly state owned, it’s coverage of the opposition protests has been very limited but it has focussed on the pro government rallies which have been organised by various groups; these rallies have reached numbers of several thousand. As the anti-government protests have been largely ignored by the media, many Russian people do not know of their existence and some do not even know that there are a large number of citizens opposed to the current government.
Over the last few days, as the protests have gained momentum their cause has been supported by a number of world figures. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said this week that the elections were “neither free, nor fair” and that there were “serious concerns” about the fairness of the election. The Russian government hit back against these comments by saying that they were unacceptable and that the US should attempt to seriously analyse the election before they make any comments; Putin also attacked the US elections and said that they were less liberal than Russian elections.
Ex Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has called for a new election and stated that the election was unfairly biased towards United Russia. He has said that a new election is needed and stated: “The country’s leaders must admit there were numerous falsifications and rigging and the results do not reflect the people’s will”. He added: “I think Russia’s leaders can only take one decision – annul the results of the election and hold a new one.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed an investigation into the election but has denied any wrong doing by him or his party. An obscene Tweet originating from Medvedev’s personal Twitter account appeared on Wednesday; however, Medvedev has denied writing it and claimed that it was written by someone from within the Kremlin who had hacked into his account. The tweet attacked those who had called United Russia a “party of swindlers and thieves”. This expression is now widely used by the opposition as a description of United Russia.
The people who are opposed to the Russian government and are demanding a re-run of the elections have gained support from many different countries and hopefully will have their wish granted by an investigation into the election, and also a new election. The Presidential election (where Putin is a candidate) is to be held on 4th March 2012 and it is safe to say that the whole world will be watching and scrutinising that election.
The current protests will continue until the people get what they want and hopefully the government will not continue to mistreat its citizens and will allow a new, fair election. However it is impossible to predict what Putin and his government will do next; he may fold and give the people what they want, he may do nothing apart from attempt to stop the resistance. Some people believe that if Putin is backed into a corner by the western-supported protestors, this may cause him to do something radical or attack the liberal western world.