American comments criticizing apparent election fraud in Russia's December 4, 2011, parliamentary election angered Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Russia readied for large-scale protests of the election results even as President Dimitri Medvedev vowed an investigation of the electoral process.
The election was for deputies (legislators) to the Russian Duma -- the lower house of parliament. Terms for deputies had been four years, the last election occurring in December 2007. Newly elected deputies, however, will serve five-year terms.
According to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) first raised concerns about the Duma election by citing instances of ballot stuffing and voter list manipulation. "We're also concerned by reports that independent Russian election observers . . . were harassed, had cyber attacks on their websites, totally contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections and participate in them and disseminate information," Clinton added.
Protesters contesting the election have used mobile phones, computers, and social networks to post stories of election fraud. Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama have championed the use of the internet and social media in the various revolutions and protests of 2011.
Apparent Victory For United Russia
The political party United Russia, home party of both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, apparently won a slim victory in the election. However, United Russia ended the day with 238 seats, a loss of 77. The disputed victory leaves United Russia with a slim majority over at least three other vital parties in the Duma. The Communist Party gained 92 seats, Just Russia gained 32, and the Liberal Democratic Party picked up 56 seats.
United Russia -- if the votes are accurate -- held on to a majority of just over 50%. That is down from the two-thirds majority it held for four years. Protestors claim United Russia desperately manipulated the election to maintain its majority.
Putin was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008. Unless election protests derail him, Putin is expected to win re-election as president in March 2012. Russia's constitution prevents a president from serving more than two consecutive terms, but it does not prevent him from running for other nonconsecutive terms.
Clinton Angers Putin
Clinton's comments on the Russian election angered Putin. "Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation," Clinton said.
"The Russian people . . . deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted," Clinton added. "And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them. And we believe that that's in the best interests of Russia and we're going to continue to speak out about it."
Putin, however, claimed that Clinton's remarks inspired Russian voters to protest. "She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal. They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work," said Putin.
Russian police arrested hundreds of protesters in the days after the election. They were expecting up to 50,000 more to stage a protest near the Kremlin in Moscow on December 10, 2011. Protests were also planned in other cities.
Election Is Second Incident Of Suspected Fraud
The 2011 election was not the first Russian contest to draw suspicion. The 2007 Duma election did as well. The U.S. State Department says that election occurred "in an atmosphere which seriously limited political competition." Those alleged abuses included media manipulation and the altering of election codes.
The United States closely watches global elections for evidence of counter-democratic fraud. "[The United States has] a strong commitment to democracy and human rights," said Clinton. "It's part of who we are. It's our values. And we expressed concerns that we thought were well-founded about the conduct of the elections."