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Protests Precede Russia’s Presidential Elections

February 25, 2012

On Saturday, February 25, about 3,500 people participated in demonstrations against Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia. These are the latest in a series of demonstrations that began late last year to protest Prime Minister Putin’s decision to run for president in elections scheduled for March 4, 2012. Putin, who was Russian president from 2000-2008, was named prime minister by his successor, Dmitry Medvedev. During Medvedev’s term in office, there has been much speculation that Putin never relinquished real power and that he would seek the presidency again as soon as it was constitutionally permitted. Consistent with this observation, in September Medvedev announced he would step down at the end of his first term, and Putin indicated he would run again (and appoint Medvedev as his prime minister). Putin’s popularity ratings fell to a historic low following that announcement and a number of small protests erupted in the months following across Russia. The demonstrations gradually escalated and, on December 24, one of the largest protests since the fall of the Soviet Union was held in Moscow, with an estimated 100,000 participants (see this analysis of the protests by the Institute for Strategic Studies).

The reason for the protests? The Russian is public is increasingly frustrated with the authoritarian turn in Russia’s political system. Said one participant in the February 24 protests, “I came here because I want fair elections… We have monarchy and not democracy in our country, and we should be honest about that at least, and say that we have monarchy” (see the full Washington Post story here).

What is the likely impact of the protests? It is widely expected that Putin will become the next president. However, Russia’s electoral rules require that a candidate must receive an absolute majority (over 50 percent) of the vote to win. If Putin does not achieve a majority in the March 4 election, he will have to face the number two candidate in a runoff, a situation which will likely weaken his presidency. Even if he does win without a runoff, it is also possible that the protests may prompt a new crackdown on civil and political liberties.

See a live feed of news stories on the election here.

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