Monday, March 5, 2012

Electile Dysfunction

The outcome of Sunday's presidential election in Russia was never really in doubt, it was a given that, despite the rash of street protests against him that have marked the past few months, Vladimir Putin would once again be the President of Russia.  The only real open questions were what would be his margin of victory and would the vote be fair.

It seems like the answers to those questions are “too much” and “no”.  According to reports this morning, Putin received roughly 65% of the votes cast – the ballot-counting is not yet complete, but this is being taken as the official margin of victory.  If this 65% figure holds, then Putin wildly outperformed the pre-election polls, which at one point had him in the mid-40s, before moving back above the 50% threshold (where he'd avoid the need for a second-round run-off vote) in the weeks just before the election.  This plays into the story coming from Russian groups like GOLOS and election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who are both talking about widespread reports of “carousel voting” - where one group of “voters” are transported from polling station to polling station, casting votes for Putin at each.  OSCE also slammed the Russian election for not being open to opposition parties beyond the small Kremlin-approved group allowed on the ballot.

The reply out of the Kremlin was predictable; the claims of voter fraud were dismissed as fabrications as they always are.  For his part, Putin talked of the “great victory” he had won for Russia against some vaguely defined opposition force, though the implication was that foreign powers were trying to install some sort of puppet government to control Russia.  It's worth noting here that Putin has repeatedly tried to dismiss the large-scale public protests sparked by Russia's last rigged election this past December as being orchestrated by shadowy “foreign powers”.

Meanwhile, Iran also held elections last Friday for their parliament.  By this morning, the votes had largely been counted and were showing a big victory for the faction controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei over the faction controlled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  It is now widely expected that Khamenei will use his expanded base of power to try to effectively sideline the populist Ahmadinejad, or perhaps to simply amend Iran's constitution to eliminate the position of president entirely and get rid of the troublesome Ahmadinejad all-together.

Of course, the Iranian election has its flaws as well.  Opposition parties were largely absent from the ballot, making the vote really a choice between the hardliners and the even-more-hardline hardliners.  It was the widespread belief that there had been voter fraud in Iran's last parliamentary elections in 2009 that sparked the “Green Movement”, which for a brief period of time, looked like it might lead to large-scale reform in Iran.  Not wanting a possible repeat, most opposition/reformist parties were simply banned from the ballot in advance of last Friday's vote.  Opposition groups then called for a boycott of the vote, which set the stage for a Khamenei vs. Ahmadinejad battle at the ballot box.

It is too early yet to tell what impact the result of last Friday's vote might have on the ongoing standoff between Iran and the US/Israel over Iran's nuclear program, nor can we tell yet what will be the fallout from the apparently fixed elections in Russia, two factors that should make the next few weeks very interesting.   
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