Through the Wire

Russian Vote Wrath Swells Protests as Putin Blames Clinton

December 9, 2011
| Security
| Russia and Central Asia

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Russian anger over fraud allegations in last week’s parliamentary election may swell a demonstration challenging the vote and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s plan to return as president to the biggest in a decade.

Organizers expect more than 20,000 people to gather tomorrow in central Moscow, where city officials approved a rally for 30,000 after first limiting the number to 300. As many as 10,000 people protested in the Chistiye Prudy neighborhood after international observers said there was evidence of ballot- box stuffing in the Dec. 4 vote to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to Solidarity, the opposition group organizing the rallies.

The ruble has dropped for seven days and Russia’s credit risk has risen the most among emerging markets since the protests started, threatening to weaken Putin’s bid to return to the Kremlin in the presidential contest in March. Putin said yesterday that the protesters had been emboldened by criticism of the vote by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“People did not expect that their voting rights would be trampled on in such a rude, cynical and brazen manner,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst in Moscow. “This rally is a signal that the authorities don’t control the situation. People don’t have other legal means to contest the election results.”

Ruble, Default Swaps

The ruble fell for a seventh day, its longest losing streak in almost three years, weakening 0.6 percent to 31.55 per dollar at 10:29 a.m. in Moscow. Russian credit default swaps, which are used to insure against the risk of sovereign default, have been the worst performers this week among more than 20 emerging markets tracked by Bloomberg, having risen 18 basis points to 254.3 yesterday, according to data provider CMA, which is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers.

United Russia won about 49.3 percent of the vote on Dec. 4, down from 64.3 percent in the 2007 election. The Communist Party won about 19.2 percent, compared with 11.6 percent four years earlier. The U.S., Germany and the European Union have criticized violations during the vote.

Clinton on Dec. 6 cited a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe when discussing allegations that the election was marred by fraud. The comments “sent a signal” to activists, Putin said yesterday.

‘Ballot-Box Stuffing’

“People should have the opportunity to express their opinions, that’s normal,” President Dmitry Medvedev said yesterday during a visit to the Czech Republic. “Protests are a sign of democracy, but all protests should be held strictly in designated areas and strictly in accordance with Russian law.”

The ruling party, which lost a two-thirds majority that allowed it to alter the constitution unilaterally, benefited from uneven access to state resources and the media in the runup to the vote, the OSCE said Dec. 5. Observers also saw evidence of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities at the polls, it said.

The Yabloko party, which failed to qualify for parliament with 3.4 percent of the vote, turned to the Moscow electoral commission with a package of complaints detailing violations at the city ballot stations in which their votes were hijacked in favor of United Russia, spokesman Igor Yakovlev said in a telephone interview yesterday. The party’s request for a recount was rejected, he said.

Moscow Election Commission spokesman Yuriy Chabanov didn’t reply to a faxed request for comment and wasn’t available on his landline phone number later yesterday.

‘No Complaint’

“The city electoral commission doesn’t have a single complaint,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Putin’s former chief of staff, said in an interview on Dec. 7. “Naturally, there is some percentage of polling stations where some violations took place. They all have to be looked into.”

Sobyanin said he “absolutely” disagreed with reports of mass breaches of the law during the vote as recounted in the media, blogs and on social networks.

Thousands of people took to Moscow streets in the two days after the vote to protest election results. Police said they also detained about 90 people at unsanctioned demonstrations on Dec. 7 in the capital and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second- largest city. About 300 people were detained in Moscow in each of the previous two evenings.

“We are planning a peaceful rally to demonstrate our attitude toward dishonest elections,” Olga Shorina, a spokeswoman for Solidarity, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We are not planning to do anything unconstitutional.”

Police Presence

After the election, about 2,000 servicemen and 2,000 police officers were on duty as part of security measures that started Dec. 4, a duty officer at the Moscow police press service, who declined to be identified as per policy, said by phone.

Moscow city police spokesman Arkady Bashirov declined to speak about law enforcement provisions for the Saturday rally, saying he will have more information later.

Solidarity won approval for a greater turnout after agreeing to move its event from Revolution Square to the smaller Bolotnaya Square, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

“I think it will be more than 20,000 people, though it’s hard to say,” said Mikhail Moglov, another spokesman for Solidarity. “That would definitely be the biggest protest of the past 10 years.”

Facebook

The demonstrations are drawing support from younger Russians, whose main involvement in politics has been through the Internet, and who became disenchanted after Medvedev, 46, proposed on Sept. 24 that Putin seek the presidency, said Evgeny Gontmakher, an economist at the Institute of Contemporary Development in Moscow.

A page on the social networking site Facebook Inc. registered more than 30,000 people who said they would attend tomororw’s rally. Organizers called on people who wanted to protest for clean elections to show up wearing white ribbons and carry flowers or balloons.

“The people who showed up at Chistiye Prudy and the ones who are on Facebook writing that they’ll come -- they had been counting on Medvedev,” Gotmakher said. “Sept. 24 was a huge disappointment.”

While the demonstrations are “clearly” the biggest ever against Putin, they are “nowhere near” the size of rallies that toppled governments in the Middle East this year, Neil Shearing, senior emerging-market analyst at Capital Economics in London, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“I don’t think we will see anything like the Arab spring,” Oreshkin said. “No one is in a rush to machine-gun fire.”

--With assistance from Ilya Arkhipov in Prague and Jack Jordan and Anton Doroshev in Moscow. Editors: Balazs Penz, Brad Cook.

To contact the reporters on this story: Scott Rose in Moscow at rrose10@bloomberg.net; Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

#<827525.3252445.2.1.95.14779.25># -0- Dec/09/2011 07:46 GMT

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