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The Russian government's authority dwindles

INNOCENT ZABOLOTNY, Business mir #21 - 2012-02 MAIL PRINT 
Social conflict rose to the surface during the Russian parliamentary election and could get even worse after the presidential elections in March, 2012.
Russians do not trust their Parliament
The Russian Parliamentary elections held on December 4, 2011 revealed problems that have been accumulating in Russia for years – immovableness of the ruling elite, lack of independent judicial power, the current regime’s authoritarianism and its very high level of corruption. Numerous cases of electoral fraud during the elections have undermined public confidence in the transparency of the electoral process, triggering thousands of protests, the likes of which Russia has not experienced since the early 1990s. Furthermore, even official election results showed the Russian electorate’s loss of confidence in the current leadership. The United Russia Party lost its constitutional majority in the State Duma, resulting in an unconventional situation, wherein various party leaders will be forced to form coalitions. However, some analysts have remarked that these elections were not indicative of voting in any specific party programme but a manner of affirming public opinion on the ruling party and its leader, Vladimir Putin – both of which have fallen drastically from public favour.
In the State Duma’s Sixth Convocation, United Russia won 238 seats, the Communist Party holds 92, the Liberal Democratic Party claimed 56 seats and Just Russia came out with 64. Yabloko - which officially scored 3.5% - did not enter the Duma. In fact, it's likely that Yabloko garnered far more votes than that. It is no coincidence that in Russian embassies located in Europe and America - where electoral fraud was not an issue - this old Liberal Party came in ahead of the pack. The Yabloko's success is largely due to the nature of this particular protest vote – the voters don’t associate Yabloko with the Kremlin, which in recent years created pseudo-oppositional parties with a view to splitting the protest vote to simulate political struggle.
The opposition in the new Duma – be it real or imaginary – is represented by the Communist Party, LDPR and "Just Russia". These parties have garnered public support due to the electorate's desire for stronger opposition to the ruling party. As a matter of fact, the Communists successfully used this trump to win over voters who don't hold truck with communist ideology but are ready to vote for, “the only real opposition to Putin’s party." However, none of the opposition parties refused to work in the newly elected Duma or resigned despite stridently expressing their aversion to electoral fraud and demanding new, fair elections.
By organising numerous protest rallies, the For Fair Elections protest movement was able to at least briefly unite various political forces ranging from liberals to nationalists. However, the alliance is a fragile one which can lead to inevitable ideological conflicts at any moment and lead to the dissipation of the protests themselves. Furthermore, a political mosaic of the sort hinders any single body qualified to negotiate on the protesters' behalf from forming. Naturally, the current government uses this as an excuse, tirelessly repeating that "there is as yet nobody to initiate a dialogue with."
The individual with a great potential to become an opposition leader is undoubtedly the lawyer Alexei Navalny, who first appeared on the Internet. It's worth noting that over 50 million Russians currently use the Internet and that number is growing daily. However, those under 18 years old - hence below voting age - must be deducted from that number, leaving us with a figure that corresponds to approximately half the 109 million registered Russian voters. As the Internet is an alternative source of information and not subjected to scrutiny by the authorities, it accumulates popular protests triggered by peoples' awareness of the lack of any social and economic prospects within the existing state structure. It's thereby led to a new phenomenon in Russian politics, as exemplified by how effectively Alexei Navalny created his own protest project solely through his Internet site. It literally gave Navalny enough notoriety to address the public at protest rallies and led to his becoming what is perhaps the most striking figure in Russia's new political arena.
Navalny is best known for authoring the “RosPil” project, which was created to stimulate public control of government expenditure on purchasing and contract procurement at state and municipal levels. But now Navalny’s activities have become far more wide reaching as he criticises the current government - more specifically, Prime Minister Putin - and seeks to shape the protest movement's ideology and an alternative social system as well.
Furthermore, this young lawyer's numerous public orations receive far more support from audiences than any appeals made by old school liberal cohorts. Politicians and public figures are seeking him out and he's become a hot topic in the foreign media. Navalny was able to become a figurehead that acts as a compromise for both right wing liberals and leftist radical forces, skilfully accumulating protest movements from moderate nationalists, pro-Western liberals as well as from generally angry citizens who feel humiliated by electoral fraud. Some even predict that this 35-year-old lawyer could aspire to the presidency. However –Navalny is mostly famous on the web for the time being and there is no doubt that federal television channels controlled by Putin's government will do nothing to promote Navalny's name.
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Thousands of demonstrations - the most massive of which were held in Moscow where various estimates claim 100,000 people took to the streets - made it clear that Russian voters will no longer tolerate electoral fraud and their rights as citizens being trampled. The December, 2011 elections brought a new generation of Russians to the polls for the first time, voters who were born after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991-1993. These young people have become accustomed to using the Internet and travelling the world and the young generation were the majority presence at anti-electoral fraud rallies.
The presidential election - aggravating the conflict
The next and perhaps most important stage of Russia's current electoral cycle is the March 4, 2012 presidential election. By refusing to run for a second term, Dmitry Medvedev confirmed the public's suspicions that his presidency was a hat trick for Putin's return to the presidency. The duo has employed a "castling" move with Putin-Medvedev in tandem. Putin-Prime Minister has taken advantage of the Russian constitution's imperfect wording, intended to prohibit one person to occupying the presidency more than twice in a row by deciding to go back to being Putin-President.
Russia's presidential campaign officially began on November 6, 2011. According to the constitution, parliamentary parties each have the right to propose one candidate. Aside from Putin, who is representing United Russia, communist Gennady Zyuganov, Just Russia's Sergey Mironov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky from the LDPR will all be running for president. Others may announce their candidature individually, provided they gather support in the form of 2 million voters' signatures over a short period of time. At the last minute, Grigory Yavlinsky - one of the founders and leaders of "Yabloko" – was denied registration as a presidential candidate. The Central Election Commission has not approved approximately 25% of the signatures submitted, far surpassing the imposed 5% limit of unauthenticated signatures. Refuting Yavlinsky's candidature fuelled protests and heightened voters' suspicions of “foul play” by the authorities. Evidence of fraud in the parliamentary elections completely undermined Central Electoral Commission's activities, which is considered to be acting solely on the orders of the Kremlin by many Russian citizens. Grigory Yavlinsky - who already ran for president in 1996 and 2000 - had virtually no chance of winning but his presence on the electoral list at least gave the Russian public a possibility to vote for a liberal development system. It also strengthened suspicions regarding another "self-designatedindependent" candidate - billionaire and the ONEXIM Group's president, Mikhail Prokhorov, who collected 2 million signatures during the same period which were not contested by the CEC. Yavlinsky's elimination means that Prokhorov now has a chance to attract right votes of Yabloko's liberal electorate. The young billionaire just recently decided to enter the political arena and has already come into conflict with the current government, but it is unclear whether Prokhorov is a real opposition candidate or just another diversion the Kremlin's political strategists came up with to split opposition votes.
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INNOCENT ZABOLOTNY, Business mir #21 - 2012-02  MAIL PRINT 
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