Photo: Still from ORT Television
The victory, though greeted by thousands of supporters, is marred by an increasingly vocal opposition to Putin’s policies and leaves ambiguious whether his win will lead to an acknowledgement of dissatisfaction or the repressive backlash that has in the past been the hallmark of his rule.
As of 10:00 pm central European time, Putin had captured 63 percent of the votes with 28 percent of precincts reporting, according to the preliminary tabulation of the Russia Central Election Commission (CEC), though the official count is not expected to be announced until late Monday.
His sweeping victory means he will not have to clear a second round of voting.
“Although all went as expected, I personally cannot declared these elections to be honest and legitimate,” said Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin.
“The administrative resources, censorship, numerous violations such as ‘carousel’ voting, adding votes for Putin during the counting process, the absence of any real challengers or alternatives – all of this guarantees Putin his 63 percent,” said Nikitin, who chairs the Environmental Rights Center Bellona in St. Petersburg. Carousel voting is a falsification tactic that involves groups of people being bused around to different polling stations to vote multiple times
“This election does not mean that Putin is our president, because we disagree with the system that facilitated the conditions under which he became president,” Nikitin continued.
“But the most important events lie ahead, and this is just the beginning. Today is a bad day.”
Putin’s nearest opponent, Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov, had seized some 17.6 percent of the vote by 10:00pm. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ran a distant third at 7.29 percent, while nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky had 7.19 percent while Sergei Mironov, former speaker of the Duma’s upper chamber, the Federation Council, languished in last on 3.72 percent.
Putin himself declared victory over his three challengers before a large rally of supporters outside the Kremlin.
“I asked you once if we would win and we did win!” Putin said loudly as the crowd, numbering some 100,000, as reported by Russian television.
“We have won in an open and honest battle,” Putin said with tears in his eyes and his voice hoarse with emotion, standing on a stage alongside outgoing out-going President Dmitry Medvedev. Putin added that voters had defeated provocations that aimed “to break up the Russian state and to usurp power.”
Putin’s campaign chief, Sergei Govorukhin, pronounced the election “the cleanest in the entire history of Russia.”
Putins first terms as president were served between 2000 and 2008, and he served a four-year stint as prime minister during the presidency of his protégé, Medvedev.
But when he retakes office in May, Russia’s strongman will face an emboldened protest movement against his rule, which was not represented by any single candidate in the elections and had succeeded in holding three massive rallies over the last three months, each attracting upwards of 50,000 demonstrators.
Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the opposition Yabloko party, had been scratched from the ballot in January by the CEC for irregularities in signatures from his supporters, which he and his allies attribute to the Putin government’s wish to smother a truly alternative candidate, Yavlinsky told Bellona’s Nikitin Symposium 2012 on Thursday.
The CEC has in the past rejected signatures in support of
Zyuganov and other observers voiced immediate concerns about large-scale election violations and opposition activists predicted forthcoming protests in Moscow and other large Russian cities.
Zyuganov refused to accept the results and said that, “the entire state machine, corrupt inside out, was working for one man on the ballot, Vladimir Putin.”
Both Zyuganov and members of the vociferous yet amorphous opposition that has sprung forcefully against Putin after December’s Duma election ballot-box rigging scandal, said today’s poll showed several clear signs of foul play.
Primary among them were so-called “carousel” voting where people cast multiple ballots at different polling stations using absentee voting documents.
“These elections cannot be considered legitimate in any way,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the leaders of the protest movement, told state television after the results were announced.
Agency France Presse reported a fleet of 100 buses in the capital carrying workers from outlying regions to vote in Moscow, an action organized by the Nashi pro-Kremlin youth group but which the opposition said was aimed at multiple voting.
Yavlinsky and Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin said in their joint appearance Thursday that a large sector of the population has simply grown fed up with Putin and his system of “managed democracy,” which has put liberal opposition forces under consistent pressure, allowing them only rare permission to hold small rallies and bringing squads of police to harshly break up any unauthorized gathering.
The Kremlin gained control of all major television channels and their news reports turned into uncritical recitations of Putin’s programs, often augmented with admiring footage of him riding horseback, scuba-diving or petting wild animals.
Both Yavlinsky and Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin had urged on Thursday that Russian voters turn out to vote the “none of the above” box had it been available on the ballot.
According to one voter in St. Petersburg, who wished to remain anonymous, that option was not available in this year of presidential balloting.
Nikitin and Yavlinsky had also urged in their joint appearance that protestors of the election not turn to violence, both agreeding that bloodshed would roll-back small purchases made on reform and bring further clampdowns on human rights, freedom of speech and environmental rights.
Another opposition demonstration of at least 30,000 is scheduled for Monday night on the central Pushkin Square for “Russia without Putin.” That rally has been sanctioned by the authorities but police – who have brought in 6,300 extra officers from across Russia.
It remains unclear whether the atmosphere of tolerance toward the opposition demonstrations will remain. With his sweeping reelection, his denunciations of protesters as a small, coddled minority may gain credence.
Putin has repeatedly alleged that the protesters are stooges of the United States and Western European countries that want to undermine Russia and he has insulted them, saying for instance that their white ribbon emblems looked like condoms.