Russians went to the polls last week to decide their new president.
Observers in Russia, as well as internationally, had predicted a decisive victory for Vladimir Putin, former president of two terms and prime minister at the time of election. Unsurprisingly, the election has borne these predictions out.
Putin has drawn criticism at home and abroad for “switching seats” with close ally and current President Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev and Putin have developed a habit of trading jobs upon reaching Russia’s constitutionally mandated term limits for president and prime minister.
While this behavior has aroused the suspicions of observers, it is within the rules of the Russian constitution. Putin has, however, drawn flak from the international community for serious elections violations which are “beyond the bounds of legality.”
Last week the Globe and Mail reported that Russian authorities found video footage of three men stuffing a ballot box in Dagestan where, it is reported, Putin secured a majority in excess of 93%. In Chechnya, which neighbors Dagestan, Putin polled at 99%.
Matters are further complicated by particulars of the Russian electoral system and a unique phenomenon known as “carousel voting.” The Russian system of balloting allows voters to cast “absentee ballots” which are counted outside the voter’s home electoral district.
Reports by Russian witnesses and authorities allege that busses of people went from poll to poll, where the entire busload cast absentee ballots before moving onto another polling station and voting again. Monitors at some stations report as many as 41 per cent absentee ballots.
As a result of reforms set in motion by the Putin regime, presidential terms have been extended from four to six. This means that, as of Sunday’s election, Putin will retain the president’s office until 2018 and will not encounter another constitutional roadblock until 2024.
Western media has been especially harsh on Putin concerning his elections conduct. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Putin invited the Editors in Chief of six major newspapers, all from G8 nations, to stay with him for a week on the president’s dacha. The Editor in Chief of the Globe and Mail was among those invited.
Editor John Stackhouse’s first observations about the Russian leader were that he seemed sure about the upcoming election. Only three days before Russians went to the polls to decide on the presidency, Putin was hosting a game of hockey. Putin invited Stackhouse to participate and Stackhouse accepted.
Upon assuming office, Putin has not hesitated to resume his public position. On Mar. 6, Putin announced to the press that the election has not affected his position on the Syrian crisis. Russia and China have stepped in to prevent a previous UNSC resolution condemning the Assad regime. The international community has been critical of this position. Two weeks ago the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé “solemnly” requested that Russia and China do not prevent further attempts to intervene.
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