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


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

Norwegian Speaking Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester is seeki...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Telecoms Engineer - Telecoms Administrator - London - £26,000

£26000 per annum + 25 days holiday & further benefits: Ashdown Group: Telecomm...

Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are seeking a confident...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Prime Minister’s Questions: Yah Miliband versus Boo Cameron

John Rentoul
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Zoella is a great role model - she changed my life

Vicky Chandler
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London