Richardson: Moscow Spring?

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(Host) Commentator Paul Richardson, publisher of Russian Life magazine,
says that understanding Russia’s recent legislative election may require
a sidelong glance.

(Richardson) Quite often, Russian reality is best illuminated with a joke.

A couple of journalists are quizzing a candidate:

"Why do you want to get elected?"

"Just look what is going on in the corridors of power: officials are awash in debauchery, theft, corruption!"

"So you want to fight this?"

"Get serious," the candidate replies, "I want to join in!"

Russia’s recent elections, the Kremlin’s puppet party, United Russia,
polled 49% of the popular vote, on a turnout of 60%. This means that
less than 30% of Russia’s eligible voters are in favor of the status
quo. More Russians did not vote at all than voted for United Russia.

didn’t vote," one old friend in Moscow told me. "It would have been
senseless." This is the same friend who, in his 20s, went to the
barricades to protest the 1991 coup attempt. "I’m too old for the
barricades," he said. "At our age, I’ll just take quiet and normal."

his pensioner parents did vote, and they, like a lot of Russians, voted
Communist. Not out of any affinity for their platform, but as a protest
vote, as a way to "sober up" the party in power.

Russians are
fed up with corruption, with the growing gap between rich and poor –
which now yawns wider in Russia than anywhere else in Europe.

"I think Russians felt a need to shake these guys up," my friend said. "In many ways, this was a sobering election."

A telling analogy in a country where the favored drink is vodka straight up, no ice.

the last Duma election in 2007, Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party
has lost 15 million votes. In many regions, they lost half the votes
they polled just four years ago. Most of these were picked up by the
Communist Party – the only party whose growth can send a signal to the
Powers That Be.

And that signal is hitting home. The Kremlin is
summoning governors to Moscow, vowing the dismissal of loyalists who did
not deliver the votes. Yet, the buck stops at the top, and the head of
United Russia’s ticket in this election was none other than President
Dmitry Medvedev.

This election’s clear message was that Russians
are tired of the Putin-Medvedev power-sharing tandem; it is an
embarrassing symbol of a rigged political system.

Now, Putin
could definitely shake things up before his March 2012 re-re-election by
booting out his loyal sidekick. But that hardly seems likely. After
all, loyalty is the coin of the realm in Russia’s constitutional
oligarchy, and Medvedev has been a very loyal sycophant.

responding to widespread proof of voter fraud, former Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev has called for a revote. " More and more people are
starting to believe that the election results are not fair," Gorbachev
said. "I believe that ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities
and destabilizes the situation."

This from the former head of
the USSR – a regime that regularly and systematically held sham
elections to rubber-stamp legislatures.

Surely Gorby was joking.

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