MEDVEDEV SPEECH. He gave his annual speech to parliament last week. As is customary he started with achievements. Quite a list in fact: improvements in the economy overall, in the demographic situation, poverty reduction, military improvement. All true enough, albeit presented as positively as possible. But, in the present situation, his proposals for political reform are the most interesting. And, given the continuing existence of The Team, we may assume that these have Putin’s approval and will become law. The principal ones – and, he said, more will be coming – are the return to direct election of regional heads, the creation of a proportional voting system for districts (sounds like a return to the previous system of half individual representative and half party vote) and the reduction of the numbers of signatures required to register a party or presidential candidate. Instructions were given to the government and a bill on the last was sent to the Duma. The condition for candidates and parties to produce millions of signatures was inherently bogus and brittle. Specialists in collecting or producing the signatures appeared: the results were suspect and the authorities could always find enough fraudulent signatures to disqualify whom they wanted. So a reduction in the number required will be an improvement but better still would be to allow all registered parties to nominate a presidential candidate. Will the easier registration requirements apply in the presidential election? Not clear although one of his advisors is quoted as saying they will. If so, there could be a multitude of candidates competing for the “liberal” vote. This will have the benefit of demonstrating to Western observers infatuated with the parade of “liberals” that few of them have either support or programs.
OTHER CHANGES. Putin has ordered web cameras be established at all polling stations immediately and transparent ballot boxes will be bought and provided.
DEMONSTRATION. Another protest on Saturday; photos here, here and here. Clearly this one had a much bigger organised political party component. Two size estimates – 45K and 56K. In short, a number comparable to the Boloynaya Square protest of two weeks before. Momentum is not building: indeed Levada shows that nearly two-thirds had participated in the earlier protests. By the way, there are other opinions demonstrating these days: here is a demo on the 17th. The first photo says it all: Stalin, Putin, Aleksandr III “Yes! Single Power”.
WHO? Levada has done a survey of who was there and we can see the New Young People of whom I spoke last Sitrep (note that some questions allowed more than one answer). Men (60%), under 40 (56%), higher education (62%), self-described “liberal” or “democrat” (69%), heard of protests through the Net (89%), reasonably prosperous (68%). 20% hadn’t voted in the Duma election or had spoiled their ballot; 38% voted Yabloko, 19% Communist and 12% Just Russia. Only 37% had not protested the elections before. What were they protesting against? Falsified elections (73%) certainly but many responses show a generalised discontent with the way things are going. A solid majority want new elections, dismissal of the CEC head and punishment for fraudsters. Preferences for leaders are diffuse: about a quarter like Yabloko and Yavlinskiy but the remainder are well spread out. But there is a firm anybody-but-Putin stance. So, much as I suspected: young, educated, reasonably well-off and liberal. Putin’s children indeed but they’re tired of dad.
ELECTION FRAUD. Still nothing that I have seen convinces me of game-changing fraud. Vedomosti, which was looking at polling stations in Moscow it thought were the most fraudulent has given up and confesses it has not found big fraud (Google translation) and has, weakly, fallen back on anecdote. The Gaussian argument, popular in Russia, is fully discussed here and remains unconvincing. I reiterate: results in step with numerous opinion polls (in fact the ruling party did a bit worse than predicted) are strong prima facie evidence of reasonably accurate elections and need more than (partisan) anecdotes and credulous Western reports to contradict. Anatoly Karlin lists the various (and varied) opinions about the degree of fraud here.
KHODORKOVSKIY. Bet this doesn’t feature in Western coverage. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights rejected re-examination of the 31 May judgement that “incontestable proof” to back allegations of political motivation behind his first trial “had not been presented”. A long-winded way of saying that it found no evidence that it was politically-motivated. But the meme has been established.
WTO. At last Russia is in. The overcoming of Tbilisi’s “veto” is further evidence of Saakashvili’s slippage.
© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/)