Occupy Russia: Will Gorbachev Make a Political Comeback?
In the aftermath of the widely reported fraudulent parliamentary election on Sunday, protests in the line of the global occupy movement have now reached Russia, and are spreading like wild fire. The Putin administration has started a large and brutal crackdown, using riot police, on demonstrators and has jailed several high profile activists and bloggers. On Tuesday, 800 people were arrested across Russia. Larger rallies are planned for Saturday. Meanwhile, all the state owned media outlets have largely ignored the protests, and are instead giving ample coverage to pro-Putin staged demonstrations.
On Monday,in Moscow, thousands came out to the streets to protest fraud at Sunday’s elections to elect a new Russian parliament. The slogans from the demonstrators were clearly aimed against Putin. As far as the accusations made against Putin and his party, United Russia, to have rigged the parliamentary election, it would not be surprising at all. Vladimir Putin could be following the playbook of his most famous predecessor in the Kremlin: Joseph Stalin. Stalin once made this comment about the electoral process: “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything”. Despite the reported electoral frauds, PM Putin’s party, United Russia, had a sharp and unexpected drop to just under 50 percent of the vote while Russia’s Communist Party made solid gains to reach around 20 percent of the ballots.
Credible accusations of stuffing ballot boxes have been made by most election monitoring organizations. Just like during the Arab Spring, social media sites such as Twitter are playing a big role, buzzing with activity to drum up the protest and organize the big nation protests scheduled for Saturday. Today, as the standoff between protesters and riot police took a harder turn, Mikhail Gorbachev spoke out. The former Russian leader, now 80, who initiated democratic reforms in the final years of the Soviet Union, was interviewed on Russia state run news agency Interfax, in Moscow.
“I think Russia’s leaders can only take one decision: annul the result of the election and hold a new one. Literally by the days, the number of Russians who do not believe that the declared election results were honest is increasing. In my opinion, disregard for public opinion is discrediting the authorities and destabilizing the situation,” said Gorbachev.
This is the first real challenge to former KGB colonel, Vladimir Putin, who has run Russia under his tight control, at least politically, for the past decade. Beside, Gorbachev, very few political figures have the courage or the clout to oppose Putin in such a public manner, and it could announce a political return for Russia’s most respected elder statesman. In a wider context, it is undeniable that the Arab Spring and the global occupy movement is gaining momentum in what can be viewed as a rapid domino effect. After Russia, what could be next on the occupy movement’s “to do” list are other oppressive and corrupt regimes or political systems such as China and India.