Allegations of voter fraud have long bedeviled Russia's electoral process. For years, ruling elites silenced opponents and compromised voter secrecy. Amidst a booming post-Yeltsin economy, many observers assumed ordinary Russians just didn't care about voting rights. They were wrong.
On December 4th, Russia staged parliamentary elections. The results delivered a rebuke to the ruling party, United Russia, and its de facto leader, Vladimir Putin. Though still Russia's largest political force, United Russia won just 50 percent of the vote—a far cry from its previous 2/3 majority.
But mounting evidence suggests that even these results are overstated. Video footage of ballot stuffing and vote tampering cast doubt on the official electoral outcome. Enraged by the allegations, Russians have taken to the streets. On December 5, one day after the election, some 5,000 people gathered in Central Moscow. They charged Putin and his followers with electoral theft.
Putin's critics say the protests indicate a democratic dawn in Russia. They say the protests demonstrate the public's unease with the status quo. Many are fed up with corruption and police abuse, and growing numbers blame Putin. Some analysts even predict that Putin will be forced into a second round of presidential elections come March 2012.
Putin's supporters make a different case. They say Putin's Russia is unfairly branded as anti-democratic. Sure, the country is no liberal democracy, but it is a major improvement over the Yeltsin era. Putin has brought stability and economic growth, they say, and he should be thanked, not blamed.
As Russians prepare for Presidential elections, what do you think Putin's fate should be? Is Russia ready for a post-Putin era?
For more information see
Singinau, "Electoral fraud in the Russian election," YouTube, December 4, 2011 [video is in Russian]
David Speedie, "Putin and his Russia don't deserve the bad rap," Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2011