The fact that Dmitry Medvedev has won the Russian presidential election hardly counts as news, but the manner of his win contained a number of surprises.
Dmitry Medvedev has won the Russian presidential election. This hardly counts as news, but the manner of his win contained a few surprises.
First, the Kremlin seems to have overcome earlier reservations about too big a victory, and the fear that this would allow Medvedev to overshadow Putin. Back in December, it was argued that Medvedev might be kept below the 64.3% that United Russia won in the Duma elections with Putin at the head of the list. But with such a weak field of other candidates in the presidential election, Medvedev was always heading for a big percentage score. His official total of 70.2% is just less than the 71.3% Putin won for his reelection in 2004.
A second surprise was that turnout was so high. The Central Election Commission has kept adjusting its claim upwards, and now states that 69% of eligible Russians voted, as opposed to only 63.7% in December. This means that Medvedev actually won more total votes than Putin did in 2004: a healthy 52 million, as compared to his predecessor's 49.6 million.
There had been real fears of a dual election. If barely over a half voted in Moscow, or, even worse in Medvedev and Putin's home town of St. Petersburg, then this would have to be ‘compensated' with implausible turnouts of 99% or more in ‘controlled regions' like Chechnya. As it was, Chechnya posted a slightly more credible turnout this time, of only 91.2%.
So the third surprise is that the Kremlin has engineered a slightly more civilised victory for the ‘liberal' Medvedev. Overall there was a step back from some of the most egregious vote farming methods seen in 2007.
With only half a per cent of the vote left to count as of Monday 3 March, the official result was:
Dmitry Medvedev 70.2%
Gennady Zyuganov (Communist) 17.8%
Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democrat) 9.4%
Andrey Bogdanov (Democrat) 1.3%
Medvedev's victory was not that ‘elegant', however. Pressure on voters was still considerable. As in December, the main domestic monitoring organisation ‘Golos' (Voice) reported violations on a large scale. Western observers found their activities even more restricted.
And the process itself was deeply flawed. Medvedev's only opponents were two old lags and a fake. Putin's regime demonises the 1990s in most other ways, but two dinosaurs from the decade, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky came second and third. In theory, both results compared well with their scores in previous elections, but only because of the mathematics of the race. The Kremlin had excluded the real opposition, so many opposition voters found themselves in the bizarre position of voting for their old enemies. Few of them voted for Bogdanov. His poodle haircut may make him look like an opposition activist from the late 1980s and early 1990s, but his party is a total fake, paid for out of Kremlin coffers.
Medvedev can celebrate, however, after a bigger win than many expected, and can claim something of a personal mandate. His many opponents in the Kremlin were unable to rain on his parade.
The implications for the forthcoming ‘cohabitation' are contradictory. Putin and Medvedev were pictured together on campaign posters with the slogan 'Together we will win!' On election day they lunched with their wives, and at the key Moscow rally they even wore matching outfits. Other things being equal, Medvedev will begin his presidency with somewhat more personal authority. But the election was still tightly managed. There is nothing yet to disturb ‘Putin's Plan', and we shall find out more about its details in the coming months.
Read more on: Wider Europe
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.