Voters send Putin a message

Russia’s election day on Sunday started badly. Early in the morning, three hours before the polls opened, the website of the New Times, a Russian-language political weekly, went down after it was subjected to a distributed denial-of-service attack by unknown hackers.

An hour later hackers attacked the site of Echo Moscow radio and a succession of other sites followed. “God, how scared they [the authorities] must be” was the SMS that went round as soon as it became clear that the hackers had attacked every liberal corner of the internet.

It is unlikely that such a concerted, simultaneous attack on the entire cohort of liberal news outlets could have been carried out by amateurs. It was all done using the same technology that has in the past been deployed against the government websites of Estonia and Georgia.

Facebook and Twitter, as yet spared the attentions of the secret police, were ablaze with indignation as details emerged of voting outrages. In Yekaterinburg, cellphone footage showed three teachers putting ticks on an entire pack of voting slips; in Moscow, students were paid for taking part in the buses shipping voters to multiple polling stations; in Barnaul, election observers from the independent monitoring movement Golos were prevented from attending voting stations.

At the same time, the state media and state-controlled television channels presented a parallel universe in which voters performed their duties in genial fashion and local authorities reported nothing untoward. It was a painful reminder of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union.

And yet it became abundantly clear soon after polls closed that Russians had not voted as the party of power, United Russia, and its leaders, Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, would have wanted. Millions preferred to give their vote to anyone other than the party of power. The result bore this out: despite the mass falsification and the utter domination of United Russia on the airwaves, the party’s share of the vote slid from 64% in 2007 to less than 50%.

But this was not a vote for any party or ideology. It was a vote against — not just against the faceless functionaries of the ruling classes but against Putin, who in March will again attempt to return to the Kremlin for a third term. —

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