Mikhail Gorbachev, the father of perestroika and the last Soviet president, called the parliamentary elections held in Russia on 4 December ‘unfair’ and insisted that they should be repeated. In the meantime, Russian websites reported that columns of military vehicles were entering Moscow to crack down on protestors.
The 80-year-old statesman insisted that the announced results did not reflect the will of the people and that his country’s leadership should acknowledge falsifications and ballot-box stuffing.
The former leader added that “ignoring public opinion discredits authorities and destabilises the situation.”
Gorbachev’s remarks add fuel to Western criticism about media bias and the harassment of independent monitors during Sunday’s parliamentary election.
Russian voters dealt Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party a heavy blow by cutting its parliamentary majority in an election that showed growing unease with his domination of the country as he prepares to reclaim the presidency in 2012.
United Russia received 49.4% of the votes in Sunday’s election and will have 238 seats in the 450-member Duma, down from 315 now. Rival parties that won seats and the marginalised politicians leading street protests say even that result was inflated by fraud.
The result marked the biggest electoral setback for Putin since he first emerged in the national leadership scene in 1999, steadying the country after the chaos of the immediate post-Soviet period.
Yesterday, Putin signed the documents to be officially registered as a candidate for the March 2012 presidential election.
Current Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has agreed to replace Putin as prime minister in the next government. He previously held the post under Putin’s last presidency four years ago.
Crackdown on demonstrations
In the meantime, the authorities stepped up efforts to curb protests. More than 1,000 people were detained after a show of force by Russian police, Reuters reported. According to the website Argumenti I fakti, the authorities are sending military forces to Moscow to crack down on demonstrators.
Many Russians, fed up with widespread corruption, refer to United Russia as the party of swindlers and thieves and resent the huge gap between the rich and poor. Some fear Putin’s return to the presidency may herald economic and political stagnation.
Kremlin opponents are trying to maintain momentum after 5,000 people turned out on Monday night for the largest opposition protest in Moscow in years, demanding fair elections and chanting “Russia without Putin!.”
Police and Putin’s spokesman have said unapproved protests will be stopped. The Interior Ministry said some 50,000 officers and 2,000 ministry troops were in Moscow after the election.
A test of the drive to pressure Putin with street protests will come on Saturday, when opponents hope for a big turnout at a rally near the Kremlin.
According to Western commentators, the protests in Russia smack of the Arab Spring that rocked Northern Africa earlier this year and have expanded to Syria. Such a comparison was made by prominent opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov, who said in February that the forthcoming parliamentary elections in December were the last chance to peacefully change the situation in Russia.
Speaking in the European parliament, he said that the alternative would be a revolution, “not with camels like in Egypt, but with pistols and sticks”.
Russian protestors widely use social media both to express their criticism of the regime and to get organised. Observers of the political situation in Russia suspect that the authorities could be tempted to shut down the Internet.