Sunday, March 2, 2008

Putin, Medvedev pledge unified path

In a result that surprised absolutely no one, Dmitry Medvedev has been elected as Russia's next president. Medvedev has received nearly 70% of the votes cast; his nearest challenger, Communist party head Gennady Zyuganov, got just 18%. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic party came in third with about 10% of the vote.

Zyuganov has already promised to challenge the results. There have been reports that some voters, particularly college students and people who work for the government, were told to cast their ballots for Medvedev - or risk losing their jobs or positions at school. And two well-known candidates, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and former chess champion Garry Kasparov - both vocal critics of Putin's regime, were kept off the ballot on technicalities.

It’s really a shame that the Kremlin decided to interfere so ham-fistedly in the election. No one believes that Medvedev, under any circumstances, would have lost. Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky both had their heyday back in the 1990s, and neither the Communist nor the Liberal Democratic is really at this point attracting new members. Kasyanov is a vocal and well-known critic of Putin, but has little popular support. It’s much the same story for Kasparov, who seemed to be ready to run for president on a platform that consisted entirely of his name not being Vladimir Putin. Finally there is the fact that Putin's policies are genuinely popular among the Russians. While the presidential election here in the US is dominated by the idea of change, in Russia Medvedev's promise was more of the same.

And that was the reason why the Kremlin felt it was so important for Medvedev to win by a landslide – because it would be a validation of Vladimir Putin's eight years at the helm. Unfortunately in doing so they gave their critics, both domestically and abroad, reasons to say the election was unfair and Medvedev's victory illegitimate. Their interference probably only gave Medvedev a few more percentage points on his election total, but cost him much in terms of legitimacy.
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