Friday, December 7, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Non-Russian Republics Deliver for Putin – But With a High Price Attached

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 7 – The ten federal subjects in which President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party received the highest percentage of the vote were all non-Russian republics, a pattern that has fueled skepticism about the way the election was conducted, sparked anger among Russian nationalists, and led to at least one suicide.
The Central Election Commission has now published a list of the country’s federal subjects ranked according to the percentage voters in them gave to United Russia, with the percentages for the Communists, the Liberal Democrats and Just Russia included as well (
Among the most striking features of the list is that the first ten are all non-Russian (with seven of the ten being predominantly Muslim) regions. Chechnya, as has been reported already, came it with a 99.36 percent vote for United Russia, with others ranging down to Tatarstan which reported an 81.07 vote for that party.
Moreover, of the 33 subjects where the percentage reported voting for United Russia was above the countrywide average of 64.23 percent, 21 were non-Russian. The remaining non-Russian regions were scattered, and it is worth noting that the only federal subject that did not provide a majority for Putin’s party was the Nenets Autonomous District: 48.78 percent were recorded as voting for United Russia.
These numbers and the even more outrageous participation rates some regional officials claimed – 99 percent in Chechnya and as much as 109 percent – That is not a typo! -- in parts of Mordvinia, have led many analysts to assume that non-Russian voters will do what they are told and that non-Russian leaders are prepared to do the telling.
Indeed, few of the critical analytic pieces that have appeared about last Sunday’s election so far have failed to mention these points, seeing them as evidence of an effort by the Kremlin to falsify the results across the country but also of its inability to do so in many predominantly Russian areas.
Such observations, of course, have only fueled widespread cynicism in Russia and increasing skepticism in the West about just how democratic this poll in fact was and whether the regime that organized it deserves to be called a democracy, sovereign or otherwise, from now on.
Skepticism in the Russian Federation itself has found expression in an explosion of anecdotes about the vote. One of the best now circulating in Moscow points out that only in Russia could it happen that “a party named ‘United Russia’ could get 99 percent of the votes of recent separatists” (
But there are three other developments far more serious. First, many of the leaders of the non-Russian and especially Muslim republics and regions expect Putin to reward them for what they have done. Gratitude, as those in politics have long observed, is not a certainty; but the expectation of gratitude almost always is.
Second, it has prompted many Russian nationalists to argue that these results show that Putin has already sold out to the non-Russians and the Muslims and that the ethnic Russian majority should wake up and oppose him because “the plan of United Russia is the victory of Rossiya over the [ethnic]Russians.”
Indeed, perhaps more than any other group, the militantly anti-Muslim Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) has taken the lead in pointing to participation rates and support for United Russia among the non-Russians in general and the Muslim republics in particular (
But there is a third set of costs arising from the vote totals the non-Russian areas reported: a large number of local officials in these republics and districts who did not deliver a high enough total have already been forced to resign or – where that is possible as in Bashkortostan – been fired .
And in one tragic case, reported by Moscow News yesterday, one, Flur Yamaletdinov, mayor of the Bashkir village of Baitally, who realized that he would not be able to deliver the vote totals his superiors were insisting on took the extreme step of committing suicide (
United Russia leaders and Bashkortostan officials had wanted a high vote total. They were able to report it: more than 83 percent for that Middle Volga republic as a whole, and more than 90 percent in many rural areas like the one Yamaletdinov had been in charge of.
But the Baitally mayor realized that he personally couldn’t arrange vote totals like that, knew he would be dismissed as a result, and apparently to avoid the shame, committed suicide. His superiors, however, showed no mercy to him: They refused to allow his funeral to take place on Election Day, one of his relatives reported.

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