1:30pm

Thu March 1, 2012
Europe

As Election Nears, Russians Express Frustrations

Originally published on Thu March 1, 2012 6:10 pm

Cars decorated with white ribbons and carnations drove around Moscow's Garden Ring Road in a wet snow this past Sunday, honking cheerfully to the thousands of demonstrators on the sidewalk who formed a human chain around the city.

Elena Korobova was a link in that chain.

"I want to get rid of Putin, because I don't like his policy, I don't like what he's doing for Russia," she says of Vladimir Putin, Russia's current prime minister.

The 60-year-old university administrator believes elections for the parliament, or Duma, in December were rigged. Now, she is training to be a poll watcher for the presidential vote this Sunday.

Putin has been Russia's most powerful leader for more than 12 years, first as president and now as prime minister. Last fall, he announced that he and the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, would switch jobs.

Although Russians are expected to vote Putin back to the Kremlin, he is facing a rising wave of people power.

Most Russians say they will vote but don't really like any of the five choices on the ballot. They believe Putin has manipulated the system to eliminate any real opposition.

Those disenchanted voters include Olga Mosina, who is in her 30s and works with an investment company. She says she might cross off all the names, but she will go to the polls.

"I didn't vote in the Duma elections, because I thought my vote wouldn't count," Mosina says. "Now I think it's important. I was at Bolotnaya and now I feel ashamed that I didn't go vote."

Bolotnaya Square is where the first big protest took place after the apparent vote fraud in December. Mosina didn't expect so many people to join the human chain last Sunday, given the mass rallies the Kremlin has mobilized to support Putin.

"I thought the willingness of people to protest against him would be waning," she says.

Middle-Class Discontent

Russia is changing, says Boris Makarenko, director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

"By choosing such a straightforward way of returning to the Kremlin — [such] limited competition, and with [such] imperfect elections — Mr. Putin awoke the protest of middle class, [who are] crying out for dignity more than money or anything else," he says.

That includes middle-class Russians like 47-year-old Anna Nikiforova, a newcomer to Moscow from Yakutsk, in Siberia. On Saturday, she attended a question-and-answer session with one of Putin's four challengers, Mikhail Prokhorov.

She had overcome her initial fear that the Kremlin had set Prokhorov up to run to make the ballot look competitive. The candidate wooed supporters with a pre-Lenten holiday party.

Nikiforova, who works for Russia's biggest insurance company, says she is curious about Prokhorov's plans for a political party. She says she's ready to join because Prokhorov says he wants to give priority to human beings — not the state.

Nikiforova's 25-year-old son, Vitaly, also likes Prokhorov.

Many of his friends want to leave Russia, he says, but he wants to stay and make it better.

While Prokhorov managed to pack an auditorium with a mostly young crowd at Moscow's Academy of Sciences, many of Russia's young and discontent aren't supporting anyone yet. They blame Putin for what they see as rampant corruption and the absence of rule of law.

Makarenko, the political analyst, says this group is an amorphous mass. And yet, he warns, Putin is likely to face a difficult six-year term.

"He is at odds with a considerable and active part of the society, and the only recipe [for] success is to regain their trust," he says.

And Putin won't have an easy time with people like protester Olga Mosina.

"He'll be a lame duck from Day 1," she says. "I don't think he'll be in office for six years."

The opposition is already planning more demonstrations immediately after the vote.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Vladimir Putin has been Russia's most powerful politician for more than 12 years; first as president, now as prime minister. Last fall, he announced that he and the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, would switch jobs. This Sunday, Russians are expected to vote Putin back to the Kremlin.

But as NPR's Martha Wexler reports, that he's also facing a rising wave of people power.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS)

MARTHA WEXLER, BYLINE: Cars decked with white ribbons and carnations drove through a wet snow around Moscow's Garden Ring Road on Sunday. They honked cheerfully to the thousands of demonstrators on the sidewalk, who formed a human chain around the city - among them, Elena Korobova.

ELENA KOROBOVA: I want to get rid of Putin, because I don't like his policy. I don't like what he's doing for Russia.

WEXLER: The 60-year-old university administrator believes parliamentary, or Duma, elections in December were rigged. She's training to be a poll watcher for the presidential vote.

Most here say they will vote but don't really like any of the five choices on the ballot. They believe Putin has manipulated the system to eliminate any real opposition.

Olga Mosina said she might cross off all the names on the ballot. But the 30-something who works in investment will go to the polls.

OLGA MOSINA: Actually, I didn't go to vote in the Duma elections because I thought that my vote won't count anyway. But now, I think that's important. And I was at Bolotnaya Square before so I kind of - I feel ashamed that I didn't go to vote.

WEXLER: Bolotnaya Square is where the first big protest took place after the apparent vote fraud in December. Mosina didn't expect so many people to join the human chain Sunday, given the mass rallies the Kremlin has mobilized to support Putin.

MOSINA: I thought the willingness of people to come out and protest against him may be waning. That's what I thought.

DR. BORIS MAKARENKO: One thing which the American audience should be aware of, Russia is changing.

WEXLER: That advice from Boris Makarenko. He's been watching Russia for years from his perch at the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

MAKARENKO: By choosing such a straightforward way of returning to the Kremlin, with so limited competition, and with so imperfect elections, Mr. Putin awoke the protest of middle-class crying out for dignity, more than money or anything else.

WEXLER: Middle-class people like 47-year-old Anna Nikiforova, a newcomer to Moscow from Siberia who works for a big insurance firm. She went to a question and answer session with one of Putin's four challengers Mikhail Prokhorov. She had to overcome her initial fear that Prokhorov was set up to run by the Kremlin. Before his presentation, the candidate wooed voters with a pre-Lenten holiday party.

ANNA NIKIFOROVA: (Foreign language spoken)

WEXLER: Nikiforova wants to join Prokhorov's political party because, she says, his platform gives priority to human beings not the state.

While Prokhorov managed to pack an auditorium with a mainly young crowd at Moscow's Academy of Sciences, most of Russia's discontented haven't rallied around any leader. They blame Putin for what they see as rampant corruption and abuse of power.

Analyst Boris Makarenko calls them an amorphous mass, yet he warns...

MAKARENKO: Mr. Putin will have a very difficult six-year term. He is at odds with a considerable and active part of the society, and the only recipe of success of his next presidential term is to regain their trust.

WEXLER: And Putin won't have an easy time winning the trust of protester Olga Mosina.

MOSINA: He'll be a lame duck from day one. I don't think he'll be in his office for six years. I don't think so.

WEXLER: Martha Wexler, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.