Jamie Abbott’s retrospective story of the 2012 Russian elections
Given the struggling economy, world-wide media condemnation and the mass demonstrations of the previous few months, an innocent onlooker might have been forgiven for thinking that the result of the 2012 Russian elections was never in doubt. As outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev invited the citizens of Russia to vote for their choice of five candidates on Sunday March 4th, Russia had the chance to put the struggles and tensions of previous years behind them, and to look forward with pride to this presidential term, a term which sees Russia present itself twice on the global stage, as nations gathered first for the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year, followed by the FIFA World Cup in four year’s time. Indeed, as thousands of Russians took to the polls to register their vote from London, it seemed, in England at least, that the waves of anti-Putin protestors might at last have their way. However, the clear majority of 64% of the vote for United Russia, predicted by exit polls almost the moment polls closed, came as no surprise to many in Russia. ‘Победа будет за нами!’, claimed the outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, echoing Molotov’s famous war slogan; the result of the 2012 Russian elections was never in doubt.
Twelve years and counting…
After two terms as President between 2000-2008, Putin returned to the Kremlin for the newly extended term of six years, having acted as Prime Minister for the previous four. At the United Russia Congress in September 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed that his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, stand for the Presidency in 2012. Putin immediately offered Medvedev leadership of United Russia for the parliamentary elections in December, thus to become Prime Minister at the end of his presidential term. In order to present his manifesto, Putin published seven articles, presenting his vision of what had been achieved over the previous decade, and what he would hope to achieve in the future, outlining economic tasks, democracy, and foreign and social policies amongst others. He campaigned as any presidential candidate would, giving speeches all over the country, rallying his supporters and promoting unity. He is not just any presidential candidate, however, and perhaps only in Russia could a candidate take over a folk-music festival in the Luzhniki Stadium and promote his case to the 100,000 strong captive audience, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and comparing modern Russia to that of 1812 seemingly in the same breath. Opposition support grew (fronted by Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky) as eleven electoral candidates were barred from taking part in the election, and the police was called in to disperse rallies. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, declared the siuation ‘dire’; Zyuganov claimed that Putin was ‘the main threat’ to Russia. These reactions were comparatively subdued, though, as suspicions of vote-rigging were to follow.
‘I promised you we would win; and we won!’
Putin ignored claims of the ‘illegitimate and dishonest’ election, that Russia is being run by a ‘mafia-like clique’, that has in its pocket the police, the courts and the chairman of the electoral commission in charge of these elections. The range of voices aligning themselves in opposition to the Kremlin was far wider than in the aftermath of previous elections, when those who stood against the Kremlin candidate tended to give way graciously, almost resigned to the fact that they themsleves were never real competitors. In 2012, the circumstances were different, however, as allegations of ‘electoral irregularities’swept through the Kremlin. Putin was given clear media prominence in the run up to the elections, he limited ‘genuine competition’ and United Russia employed ‘carousel’ voting tactics – in which citizens are bussed en-masse between different polling stations, thereby casting their vote any number of times. Claims that United Russia’s share of the vote was inflated by up to 10% were dismissed by Putin, as he addressed his followers, declaring, ‘It was a very important test for us all, of political maturity, and we proved that no-one and nothing can hold us back. We said we’d win, and we won. Glory to Russia!’
Russian TV channels became full of triumphant coverage of Putin’s victory, and national newspapers welcomed the win. Those not under the influenceof the state had their say too, though, as protestors went online to voice their disapproval. Actor Maksim Vitorgan claimed Russia was ‘humilated’ and ‘offended’, and TV producer Vera Krichevskaya declared that the Russian people were having ‘our votes, our squares and our taxes stolen from us’. Alexei Navalny, perhaps Russia’s most famous anti-Putin blogger was arrested for leading a 20,000 strong protest in Moscow’s Pushkin Square after the results were announced, just one example of hundreds detained for their involvement.
Putin retained power. By hook or by crook, that much is clear; but which would he move? Would he draw the conclusion that he now has a strong mandate from the Russian people that allows him to show some flexability? Improbable. We could have hoped, at least, for the sake of Russia and its people, that he wouldn’t feel vindicated by his win, reinforced in the view that Russia needs a strong leader, willing to impose order at home and abroad, whatever the cost may be. As Russian tanks roll over the border into Ukraine and as European sanctions bite on the population, the next chapter in Russia’s history is sure to be just as lively.
“It is curious… that the victory has been decided so early, even before the votes have been counted”
“There were serious problems from the very start of this election… there was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of this election was never in doubt”
“The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia”
Putin timeline if space?