ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Kremlin Comeback: The Putin Overdrive

With a weak opposition and consistent economic growth, the 2012 presidential elections were widely expected to be a cakewalk for Vladimir Putin, allowing his executive tenure to continue for another 12 years under the constitutionally revised extension of the presidential term. However, the plummeting of support for his United Russia Party in the State Duma elections and mass demonstrations against widespread vote manipulation may force the Russian leader to look at reinventing himself.

Vladimir Putin was not running for office in Russia’s State Duma (lower house) elections of 4 Dece­mber 2011, but these elections were widely seen as a test of his popularity amid his likely return to the presidency. Despite ­reports of rampant irregularities, the final results in the polls show support for Putin’s United Russia (UR) party plummeting, but it is still in control, albeit with a much slimmer mandate.1 But more importantly, it is very clear that Russian voters are beginning to grow tired of the Putin-Dmitry Medvedev tandem. There have been mass demonstrations, one on 10 December and another, more massive agitation on Christmas Eve. The first protest was triggered by widespread claims of abuse in the Duma elections, but the second stir directly targeted Putin himself. After the first mass rally, it seemed that Putin was still in control but the second demons­tration against Putin’s domination shows that the protest movement has gained ­critical momentum and he must commit to change or risk losing power (Smolchenko 2011).

Despite the terrible knock to Putin’s popularity in the Duma elections, the UR party still appears most in sync with most Russians, according to the independent, non-governmental Russian polling and sociological research orga­nisation Levada Centre (Rapoza 2011). The protesters mostly comprise members of the country’s urban middle class. Putin is counting on the support of the many millions in the provinces who regard him as the man who restored order in Russia after the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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