Ballots & Bullets (UK):
Notes on Putin’s victory: Is Russia changing?
In the end, for all the fevered discussion of recent months, Putin’s third presidential election victory on March 4, 2012 looks on face value much like his previous two: a first-round landslide that surpassed all his opponents put together; the communists in a distant second, and a rag-bag of liberal, nationalist and pro-regime candidates polling in single digits. What’s more, Putin’s result comfortably surpassed the 49 percent score for the pro-regime United Russia party in December, the 50 percent threshold for avoiding a second-round and his 53 percent support in 2000.
Of course, this score was likely massaged: it’s notable that Putin was the only candidate whose final tally surpassed the exit-poll estimate given by VTsIOM (58.3) and FOM (59.3), and even Russia-watchers who are not normally particularly anti-Putin (such as Anatoly Karlin) estimate the rate of fraud at 3-4 percent.
Still, such peripheral fraud is nothing new to Russian elections and a support base of nearly 60 percent is enviable for a leader entering his twelfth year at the political apex. But Putin’s post-victory tears (though he blamed them on the bitter wind) indicate that this was Putin’s most emotional and hard-fought victory yet, and perhaps one that he was never fully sure of until the count. So is the initial impression of business-as-usual merely illusory? How much has actually changed?