The elections earlier this month for the new Russian Duma brought ordinary people out in the biggest protests since the breakup of the old Soviet Union. Tens of thousands of Russians condemned the parliamentary elections as having been skewed in favour of the ruling United Russia party. They want a re-run of the elections, and the fighting mood seems to be holding, promising further demonstrations.
The new assembly’s legitimacy is not only being questioned by many in the electorate; independent observers have also talked about possible fraud at ballot boxes. The Central Election Commission cancelled the voting results from 21 polling stations, although this did not affect the overall outcome. United Russia still has an absolute majority, albeit reduced; it no longer commands the two-thirds majority which before enabled it alone to pass constitutional changes.
President Dmitri Medvedev, the day after the elections, left some room for conciliatory manoeuvring.
He said: “United Russia is open to cooperation, including coalitions. Even though it won the majority and seems not to need to cooperate with anyone, I repeat, we should join blocs and coalitions.”
The suggestion that concessions might be made only materialised with the open expression of voters’ discontent. The president and prime minister it seems will no longer coast Russia’s political landscape unprovoked.
Premier Putin’s support base has never been so shaky, and yet he hopes to resume his previous role as president after elections for the top job scheduled for March next year. Medvedev, as the two told a party congress in September, aims to revert to the prime minister’s job, by mutual agreement. Now, however, Putin seems less assured of an uncontested victory.