Leading article: Mr Putin must not stifle this chance for change

 

Share
Related Topics

When a misty-eyed Vladimir Putin celebrated his election victory with supporters in Moscow on Sunday, he said: "We have won in an open and honest battle." That is not what the OSCE observers concluded. In their preliminary report, they said that while the actual voting was well organised and efficient, the campaign was "clearly skewed" in Mr Putin's favour, "and the process deteriorated during the count due to procedural irregularities". Golos, an independent Russian election watchdog, said the polls could not be considered "fair and open".

Similar complaints have been levelled after almost every Russian election, and far back into Soviet times. What is different now is that over the past 12 years – eight as President and the past four as Prime Minister – Mr Putin has had ample opportunity to improve things, and dismally failed to do so. But there is another difference, too: the criticism during this campaign came not just from international observers, but from a veritable army of concerned Russians, equipped with mobile phones, internet connections and cameras. This groundswell of discontent is welcome evidence of a new mood.

For while the presidential election was undoubtedly, and shamelessly, "skewed" in favour of Mr Putin, once the Russian Prime Minister had decided to stand, he was always going to win. It is a further indictment of his years in power that there simply was no credible alternative. In consolidating his authority, Mr Putin left little space for the multiple strands of opinion that are the lifeblood of democracy. In specific ways, he even reversed some of the gains of the 1990s, ending direct elections for regional governors, making it harder for opposition nominees to register as election candidates, and clamping down on the media.

The gap between his vote – at more than 63 per cent – and that of his closest opponent (17 per cent for the Communist, Gennadi Zyuganov) showed that manipulation was hardly necessary, even to save Mr Putin from a second round. His return to the Kremlin is badly tarnished, but he will be Russia's next President.

How his leadership is judged now depends on how he uses his new mandate. Will he try to pick off his opponents in the – probably vain – hope of preserving the status quo for six more years, or might he seize the opportunity that has been presented by the recent emergence of new political forces? Will the outgoing President, Dmitry Medvedev, become Prime Minister, in the expected job-swap, and if he does, will he be able to translate his more liberal words on rights and the rule of law into deeds?

Early signs are mixed. There were many arrests at protests yesterday, and much intimidating hardware was on display. The danger is that Mr Putin is going back to his bad old ways. Against this, however, legislation is in train to simplify the registration of electoral candidates and restore direct elections for governors. And, within hours of Mr Putin's victory, Mr Medvedev had announced on the Kremlin website that the convictions of two dozen people, including that of the oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were to be reviewed.

It is not clear whether these moves represent an attempt by Mr Medvedev to make the best of the weeks that remain of his presidency, or new priorities that Mr Putin will choose to leave in place after his inauguration. And, of course, any review of the totemic Khodorkovsky case will only be as good as its outcome. But the announcement was clearly timed to convey a post-election message to the business and professional circles that, rightly, clamour for reform. If those who hold power in Russia are starting to listen to the people – dissenters as well as supporters – then the seeds of real change may finally be sown.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own