Putin wins but opposition gearing up to challenge him
As expected, Vladimir Putin won the Russian presidential election, getting about 65% of the vote. But the opposition, which has been in the streets even in the dead of winter, plans to challenge Putin's victory which came amid widespread accusations of fraud.
"We have gained a clean victory!" he said, standing next to Dmitri A. Medvedev, the protégé he chose to succeed him as president just over four years ago, and who now, in a job swap, has been promised the post of prime minister. "We won!" Mr. Putin said. "Glory to Russia!"
Amid renewed allegations of voting fraud, some opposition leaders called for demonstrations beyond those allowed by government permits, raising the prospect of a sharp response from the authorities and threatening to undercut Mr. Putin's promise of stability.
"This is not an election; it's a shame," Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front, a radical socialist group, posted on Twitter. "Once again they spat in our face. Tomorrow we go to the streets!"
Despite their strength in numbers, the protests have failed to yield clear leaders, nor have they spread much beyond the capital, which raises questions about the opposition's viability.
The popular anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny said he would lead an unsanctioned march to the Kremlin after Monday's rally, and he has called for a permanent encampment of demonstrators like those created by the Occupy movements in the West.
Putin's fanatical youth supporters - the brownshirt-like Nashi - has vowed to tear down any tents and carry protestors off bodily if they have to. And Putin has promised there will be no "Ukraine" like demonstrations. The "Orange Revolution" saw protestors occupying the square in front of Ukraine's government building.
This sets up an almost certain clash with police and Putin supporters. The "sanctioned" demonstration -- scoffed at by many more radical activists -- may also receive the "Putin treatment." He has warned that opposition to his rule is fomented by the US and NATO and he very well might decide to try and crush any challenge to his rule completely.
As I note in my piece at FrontPage Magazine, there were 5,000 accusations of fraud during the vote yesterday:
• "Carousel voting" where large groups of voters go from polling place to polling place to cast several ballots.
• "Centralized voting" where managers of factories, schools, hospitals, and other large organizations pressure employees to vote for a candidate. Ballots are sometimes collected at the workplace.
• The Guardian reports "Two women hover over a ballot box in the industrial Russian city of Cherepovets, stuffing in ballot after ballot."
• As usual, the Caucasus vote was nearly 100% for Putin and United Russia.
• Videos from various parts of the country showed numerous other cases of ballot stuffing. The independent election monitoring group Golos reports 5,000 complaints of irregularities and fraud in the vote.
The question is, why did Putin feel it necessary to cheat? He would have been a runaway winner anyway. Pre election polls gave him 55% of the vote.
The extreme insecurity of Putin, who routinely murders and imprisons opponents, means that the Russian people - who have no illusions about Putin's record on human rights -- have probably just elected a man who will take away what little freedom they have left.