Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Will Putin Reward Muslim Voters for Backing United Russia?

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 5 – Muslims in the North Caucasus and Middle Volga voted overwhelmingly for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, boosting the countrywide rate of participation in the poll and the total vote for the president’s party.
In the North Caucasus alone, Moscow reported yesterday, participation in the elections was over 90 percent in every case and approached 100 percent in several, and backing for United Russia was almost as high, far greater than the national figure of 63 percent (
And while many observers have suggested that officials there artificially boosted both sets of figures there and elsewhere, no one has challenged the conclusion that Muslims in these areas voted more heavily and more for United Russia than did voters in most predominantly Russian areas.
Now, some Muslim commentators are suggesting that Putin should reward his supporters from their community by responding to its needs rather than just visiting mosques, voicing support for Islam in general, and inviting Muslim leaders to take part in government ceremonies (
Muslims voted for United Russia and thus endorsed Putin, according to Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov, the head of’s research department, in order to demonstrate that they are “for a strong, united and socially oriented state” and thus put to rest all charges that Muslims are linked to “separatism, extremism, and the like.”
The question now after the elections, he continued, is whether “the ruling elite will hear the Muslim voice” in this case and “will take into account this message” from its Muslim supporters. If it does not, Mukhametov said, longstanding problems will just keep piling up, as they have been doing for “hundreds of years.”
Other Muslim commentators surveyed by and who maintain their own blogs have seconded Mukhametov’s argument, suggesting that both Putin and United Russia could face some real challenges from Russia’s Muslims if the authorities fail to take care of their backers in the Islamic community.
Indeed, one Muslim politician who lives in the suburbs of the Russian capital has already made very clear that he and his community are ready to go to court to protect their interests if the legislative and executive branches are not more responsive than they have been in the past (
Not surprisingly, Muslim leaders are not the only ones focusing on the role Muslim voters played in the Sunday elections. Vladimir Basmanov, the coordinator of the Central Council of the militantly anti-Muslim Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), has as well.
In a commentary posted on that organization’s website, he noted that the elections show that support for Putin and his party come from those who are paid by the government, pensions, and especially “residents of what he called “Chechnya-Tatarstan-Daghestan” (
According to Basmanov, ethnic Russians must focus on this reality and recognize that Putin lacks support in the Russian community and will continue to betray them and any chance for a “Russia for the Russians,” if they do not demonstrate how opposed the ethnic majority of the country is to that possibility.
There was one report this week, however, that could make Putin suspicious about just how much support he enjoys about Russia’s Muslims -- or at least among the most intellectually active and computer savvy part of that more than 20 million strong community.
The portal conducted a poll of its own in advance of the elections, asking visitors to the site to cast their ballots for the party of their choice. Almost 2,000 of them did, and this unrepresentative sample showed a very different pattern of political support than Sunday’s elections.
The “winners” in this poll were not Putin and his United Russia Party – it finished third with only 7.64 percent of the vote – but rather Yabloko which got 49.55 percent of these electronic votes and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) which garnered 19.18 percent of the total (
No other party, not the Communists, not Just Russia, and not Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s Liberal Democrats, even approached the seven percent barrier. Had these websurfers been the electorate rather than the actual Muslim voters who took part in the parliamentary poll last year, Sunday’s results would have been very different..
Putin may choose to remember these preferences rather than the vote totals from Muslim regions that helped increase his party’s numbers and give the aura of legitimacy to the elections. And if he forgets, Russian nationalists and anti-Muslim activists like Basmanov are certain to remind both him and their own supporters.

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