Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer and Communist strongman, was elected with 64% of the vote on March 4th to yet another term as President, despite mass protests against his regime.
Putin was first appointed acting President following Boris Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999. He ran for the office successfully in 2000, and again in 2004. Russian law forbids three consecutive Presidential terms, so in 2008 Putin supported his confidant and successor Dmitry Medvedev in his bid for the Presidency.
Medvedev, upon winning the election, immediately appointed Putin as Prime Minister, and the two governed in tandem until this year. Whereupon, Putin again ran for the office of President and won amidst enormous protests and widespread accusations of electoral fraud. It is expected that he will appoint Medvedev as his Prime Minister upon being inaugurated.
Additionally, Presidential term lengths were extended this year (just prior to the election) from 4 years, to 6.
So Putin has ruled over Russia for the past 13 years, and will continue to do so until at least 2018, barring a popular uprising or foreign invasion. Senator John McCain recently directed a Twitter post at the Russian President, saying “Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you.”
Putin, in response, derided McCain as crazy war veteran, who spent too much time as a POW:
Mr McCain fought in Vietnam. I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore. Mr McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years. Anyone (in his place) would go nuts.
Protestors rallying against Putin’s regime accused his government of totalitarian policies, including the silencing of political dissidents and the rigging of elections.
These accusations have been largely substantiated by independent human rights organizations. As of January, 2008, the Committee to Protect Journalists stated that at least 47 journalists had been killed for opposing the actions of the government.
Today, Saturday March 10th, a crowd whose size was estimated at 20,000, gathered in Moscow to protest what they believe to be the fraudulent results of the March 4th election. International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe alleged ballot stuffing, a lack of honest competition, and unfair advantage due to the massive amounts of government money spent on Putin’s campaign.
On election day, one protestor commented that “up until today, Putin had some claim on legitimacy as a political leader, but now that he has run this fake election marked by mass fraud to become emperor, he has none.”
Compounding his image as a would-be dictator, Putin ordered the arrest of an all-girl Russian punk band on March 3rd, the day before the election. The band was known for engaging in anti-Putin guerrilla demonstrations, including an impromptu concert in Red Square. Putin’s spokesman described the band’s protests as “disgusting”. The members of the band, all of whom are in their 20s, face up to 7 years in prison for protesting against Putin’s government.
I may not always agree with John McCain, but in this particular case, I hope he’s right. Only time will tell if the people of Russia are up to the challenge of taking their country back.