Largest protest since collapse of Soviet Union rocks Russia
Monday 26 December 2011
Russia's leadership was forced to defend its legitimacy yesterday after about 100,000 demonstrators rallied in central Moscow to demand democratic reform and fair elections in the largest wave of popular dissent since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The rally on Moscow's Sakharov Avenue on Saturday was the fourth and by far the biggest of the mass demonstrations provoked by the parliamentary vote held on 4 December. The ruling United Russia party, led by the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, held on to a slim majority in parliament in those elections, but the results have been tainted by claims of wholesale fraud.
The demonstrators stood for hours in sub-zero weather on Saturday listening to a line-up of speakers as diverse as the crowd itself, including TV celebrities, writers, musicians, politicians, scientists and a jailed dissident whose video message was broadcast on a giant screen beside the stage.
"The people are waking up," said Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front opposition group who was arrested on the day of the elections as he heading to a rally. "The people have stopped putting up with this humiliating regime."
The name given to the demonstration – "For Fair Elections" – was also its main demand, suggesting a growing desire for the return of true democracy, not the "managed democracy" crafted under Mr Putin's 12-year rule.
The government has only three months before the 4 March presidential elections, when Mr Putin will seek to return for a third term as president. That mantle had been handed to Dmitry Medvedev, with Mr Putin taking the number two role, but few questioned where the real power lay.
With no viable competitors, Mr Putin is likely to win, but the legitimacy of his mandate could be eroded by the ongoing tide of discontent. His approval ratings have fallen to historic lows, with one survey this month by the independent Levada Centre showing that only 36 per cent of voters are behind Mr Putin.
In response to the crisis of legitimacy, the government has scrambled to offer reforms in the hope of placating the opposition. On Friday, the Kremlin introduced laws into parliament that would make it easier for new opposition parties to take part in elections.
A source in the United Russia party, who spoke to The Independent after the rally on Saturday, said the government planned to engineer opposition parties to fill in the political spectrum and soak up opposition votes.
"We have to take drastic action," he said. "We've missed our chance to learn how to work with the people and calm them down. We urgently have to open up the system."
- 1 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 2 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 3 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...