SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 18, 2012, Moscow
Moscow | Vladimir Putin | Vladimir Putin secured 63.82 percent | Russia |
While the win for Putin is as convincing as it can be, the ex-KGB man will need all his survival instincts to sail through his third term, Saurabh Kumar Shahi reports from Moscow and St. Petersburg
Sitting in the office of the International Observers from CIS countries, Nauriz Aidarov tells me a story about Vladimir Putin. Or rather about his grandfather, Spiridon Putin. The fellow, a chef who had questionable expertise in cooking Caucasian dishes, was employed by none other than Lenin in his personal kitchen. When Lenin died, grandfather Putin started serving Stalin and served till the latter's death. Now Stalin was hardly a pleasant master. In fact, he was hardly a pleasant man. It has been chronicled that he was particularly nasty with people who were close to him or were around all the time. Still, when Stalin died, Spiridon Putin was one of those rare staff members who remained untouched, unassaulted.
Aidarov knows from his personal interactions with Vladimir Putin that he learnt the tricks of the trade from his grandfather. If that is true, Vladimir indeed got one heck of a teacher. And on the night of March 4, he showed the world his survival instinct.
After all the votes were counted, Vladimir Putin secured 63.82 percent, or 44.9 million popular votes cast, the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) reports. The Communist Party contender, Gennady Zyuganov, received 17.18 percent of the votes, which corresponds to more than 12 million ballots, while the independent candidate, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, stood a convincing third with 7.77% or roughly 5.4 million of the votes.
Among the also-rans, ultra right-wing Vladimir Zhirinovsky, mercurial leader of the LDPR party, stood fourth with a paltry 6.23% or 4.3 million votes whereas the A Just Russia party candidate and former Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov finished last with 3.84% or 2.7 million votes.
'The results are as convincing as it can be. I was personally always quite sure that there would not be a need for a run-off. At the end, the margin is telling. More than anything else, it has restored the confidence back for Putin,' says Alexei Mukhin, the head analyst at the Centre for Political Information.
Meanwhile, some of the independent observers and opposition leaning volunteers have alleged widespread fraud and irregularities but have failed to provide concrete evidence till now. Many of the irregularities reported are minor in nature such as somebody's name missing from the list or the absence of absentee ballots. There are some serious charges of bussing voters for multiple voting as well. However, looking at the magnitude of the win and expanse of the country, it is evident that they would not affect the result even marginally.
Aidarov, the head of the CIS observers, on the other hand, maintains that 'the conduct of the March 4 election was transparent, conducted in conditions of fair competition, openness, and in accordance with generally recognised international norms.' Among non-CIS nation observers, a cumulative report released by US attorney Kline Preston suggests that as many as 89 percent of all foreign monitors rated the elections as 'good,' whereas 9 percent termed it 'acceptable'. Close to 1 percent rated the polls as 'bad' and it is this small segment that the Western media is mostly focussing on.
So, what does this victory mean for Putin personally and Russia in general? Analyst Oleg Artyukov of Pravda suggests that the result will mean a personal redemption. 'It is undoubtedly important. Putin personifies stability for the majority of Russians, no matter what his opponents may say about him. The protests, which took place, mostly involved Muscovites, rather than the whole of Russia. The young people, who took part in the rallies, cannot compare the present time, the time that they live in, with the time of the 1990s, when they were children.'
Indeed, the last few months have been the most testing time for Putin personally since the snowy, damp evening of December 31, 1999, when the ailing, outgoing President Boris Yeltsin handpicked his faceless Prime Minister to succeed him. 'Like all of Moscow, I too had come here today to listen to the President wishing us Happy New Year. But things turned out rather differently,' a visibly surprised Putin had declared.
Twelve years later, at the same venue, amidst similar snow, the expression on his face was not of surprise, but of gratitude. Tears ran as he waved to his to 150,000 strong supporters.
But this is just the beginning. It will be interesting to see how his detractors take the verdict. Political analyst Pavel Svyatenkov believes that there is a degree of haziness as to what extent the urban society will treat the election as legitimate. 'In the initial days, there will be protests. What needs to be seen is how long it sustains. If it sustains for a longer time it will create administrative problems.'
More than any time in the past, it is here that he'll need his aides to assist him. One of the strengths of Putin is his willingness to remember and stand by his friends who helped him when he was a 'nobody'. Shortly after the disintegration of Soviet Union, this jobless KGB spy landed a job at the mayoral office at St. Petersburg. Those were tough times. The friendships he struck there remain with him to date. And the most famous of them all is Dmitry Medvedev. As Putin starts his third term at Kremlin, he'll need a huddle. People who know him and his aides maintain he won't be left asking.
The result is bad news for the West in general and NATO in particular as they were expecting a run-off till the final week. Now they will have to work out a working relationship with Putin. And that won't be easy with their kind of worldview. One of the most telling comments on this came from German analyst Alexander Rahr, who heads the Berlin-based Berthold Beitz Centre. 'Make no mistake. The West demonised Putin because he built a strong and assertive Russia. What the West wants instead is a Russia that integrates itself with Western values and lifestyles but strictly as a junior partner. They have little patience for Russia's own terms, leave alone its proud traditions.'
However, more than anything else, he first needs to put his house in order. Gone are the days when he was the only visible face in the Russian Federation. The Communists were always there but let's accept it, apart from the usual union workers and pensioners, nobody voted for them. Their base will at best remain stagnant in the coming years, if not shrink. However, he has now a formidable opponent in the form of billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The latter fought as an independent without much logistical or party machinery support and managed to dent Putin's vote substantially in Moscow where the latter polled less than 50 percent for the first time in his electoral history. It is becoming increasingly clear that Prokhorov is attracting a rainbow of anti-Putin votes.
'I mean nobody can contest the fact that Putin ushered economic and political stability in Russia. Not only did he crush the secessionist movement in Chechnya, he dramatically reduced the street crime that was a menace during the Yeltsin years. There is an overall improvement in quality of life as well. But these improvements have now led to new demands,' explains economist and political scientist Sergey Mikheyev of the Centre for Political Assessment. 'If in the 90s the urban class was worried about bread, it now aspires for variety in it and mozzarella as well.'
It is evident that Putin will initiate some quick changes. If his recent speeches are any indication, he seems to be reconciling with people's aspirations. A reorganisation of the ministries is imminent. According to the sources close to Kremlin, it is expected that Transport Minister Igor Levitin, Education Minister Andrei Fursenko and probably Health Minister Tatyana Golikova too are on their way out.
But make no mistake, Putin will never reconcile with the protestors. In the KGB days there was a thumb rule which said that people cannot act independently and that they are all stooges of somebody or other. And as actor director Nikita Mikhalkov says in his iconic movie '12'; there is no such thing as an 'ex-KGB' man.