Third Time’s the Charm: Putin Re-elected

Background

Vladimir Putin won the Russian presidential elections held on March 4, 2012. Securing 63.6% of the votes, Putin will serve his third term as President and control the Kremlin for the next six years. Veteran politician Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation came a distant second with 17.18% of the votes and the independent Mikhail Prokhorov got 7.98% of the votes.

According to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, the total counted votes were 71,519,975of the 108 million eligible voters in Russia. This makes the national turnout over 65%, a high figure seemingly giving Putin greater legitimacy. However, accusations of carousel voting, where buses of bribed citizens are brought from one polling station to another, cast doubts both as to turnout figures and the legitimacy of the election.

Putin has already served two terms as President and two terms as Prime Minster of Russia. He first came into power as Prime Minister from 1999 to 2000. He subsequently became President from 2000 to 2004 and was re-elected for another four year term that lasted till 2008. The Russian constitution allows only two consecutive terms as President. Therefore, Putin went back to being Prime Minister from 2008 to 2012. During this time, Dmitry Medvedev held the office of the President and many felt that he was holding power for Putin. Now, Medvedev has switched places with Putin and become Prime Minister.

The election took place in a volatile atmosphere. Many see the swapping of roles between Putin and Medvedev as undemocratic and there were widespread protests in Russia in the run-up to the elections. After the elections, demonstrations broke out protesting vote rigging. These demonstrations were the largest Russia has seen since the collapse of the USSR. The government detained protesters, including opposition leaders, Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticized “procedural irregularities” during the elections. A statement on their website reads, “The conditions for the campaign were clearly skewed in favor of one candidate.” The OSCE’s monitors also state that media gave Putin clear advantage in coverage, and his campaign used state resources. Additionally, the high monetary and legal requirements for running as a candidate in the election limited genuine competition.

While many criticized the fairness of the elections, an opinion poll from “Levada Center” from September 2011 shows that 41% of Russians wanted to see Putin as candidate in the 2012 elections, 22% wanted Medvedev as candidate, 10% wanted someone else and 28% were unsure. Also, some experts argue that liberalizing reforms since 2008 have made Russia less repressive than before. This time, instead of just cracking down on demonstrators, the regime responded with political reforms.

Why is Putin’s re-election relevant?

Putin has been credited with the return of political stability and economic progress in Russia after the crisis of the 1990s. From 2000 to 2008 unemployment was reduced by half and the GDP increased by 72%. Analysts ascribe the economic growth to fiscal reforms, foreign investment and an increase in oil and gas prices, Russia’s most important exports.

However, he has also been credited with returning Russia to an earlier era of authoritarianism where human rights, civil liberties and democracy itself are at threat. His repressive policy towards Chechnya and brutal intervention in Georgia has concerned international observers. Furthermore, many feel that Putin does not deserve entire credit for stabilizing the economy. Russia benefited from rising energy and commodity prices, and the economy is entirely based on natural resources. Putin actually reinstated state control through forced nationalizations and some argue that he is responsible for the continuing weaknesses in Russia’s economy.

Putin has accused the US of “monopolistic dominance in global relations” and is likely to liaise with other BRICS to oppose American interests. Putin recently signed a decree for long-term economic policy that plans to stabilize economic growth, build a technologically advanced Russia, create 25mn new jobs, and increase income. It remains to be seen if his third term will lead to a fillip in Russia’s economic growth or cause its decline.

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