Discontent among Russians over the administration manifested itself about as far from Moscow as you can get.
In Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, the electorate punished Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party by voting for the Communists.
The silent protest by ballot breathed new life into the party, 20 years after its fall.
First Secretary of the Primorsky Communist Party, Vladimir Grishukov, said: “The economic and social situation here influenced the election. For example today, 400,000 square metres of buildings are under construction – in the USSR it was 1.5 million.The population here is dying – last year there were 21,000 deaths but only 17,000 births. This year in the Primorsky region over just nine months more than 20,000 people died with 17,000 births. And migration doesn’t help – more people are leaving than arriving.”
The list of reasons that doubled the Communists’ vote is long and varied. Even the youth in this far-eastern part of the country decided to shun United Russia.
Student Alexei Shilovich said: “I voted for the Communist Party not because I’m for the Soviet Union, but because I want at least some kind of change.”
The veteran political commentator Vladimir Pozner believes that Putin is no longer the darling of the Russian people, many of whom feel they have been abandoned.
“People don’t understand what the government is doing? Where are we going? What do we really want? What’s going to happen to our children? What kind of promise is there? And then, in addition to that, there’s a feeling of being totally unprotected. That is, if anybody from the government wants to go after you, you have nowhere to go,” Pozner said.
“The feeling is that the courts are not courts, the police can pretty much do what they want, you’re totally unprotected. If someone wants to take over your business, they’ll take it over. There’s a sense of ‘what can I do?’ And when I speak about malaise, that’s pretty much what I mean. That’s how you sum it up.”
Mikhail Gorbachev, who as president steered the Soviet Union away from Communist rule through Perestroika and Glasnost, went even further in his analysis.
“There is no real democracy, and there won’t be any while the government is afraid of the people, afraid to say things openly, to prove their point and to suggest their projects,” Gorbachev said.
It is widely believed the plunge in Putin’s popularity will do little or nothing to stop him winning the presidency in March but for once, his candidacy carries with it more than a hint of rejection.