It is quite hard to drum up too much enthusiasm for an election which is a foregone result. Through the western media - not the Russian media, natch - I have been reading about the state employees forced to get absentee-ballot papers and fill them out in front of their State bosses (sounds like New Labour in the Midlands if you ask me, but...) and other expected shenanigans.
I tried to encourge my colleagues with some election excitement (I am sure, inwardly, they were all going yay!). Inter alia, I emailed all my Russian staff:
"Do enjoy your right to cast your vote this weekend. Who you vote for, of course, is none of my business, but do vote. “History is made by those who show up” etc…
"I won't tell you how to vote – I remember, one time at Cambridge, when the University Catholic Priest said to us after Mass one Sunday before an Election: “Boys, I won’t tell you how to vote next week…but do remember that Our Lady wears a blue mantle”.
"Oh, but, by the way, there is no greater symbol of Russian patriotism than a lovely Russian bear…"
Of course, Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia, VVP's party) is going to storm it by a landslide; and in some of the... oh... 95,000 polling stations or thereabouts things may not be as the OSCE would dream of in a perfect world. But here are some personal observations.
If the neo-facists of the LDPR well, that will be the people's choice and not VVP's machinations. Mad bad Zhirinovsky is long-past his sell-by date. If the Communists get in, ditto. Actually, the demographic analysis of 'shares our values' polling I was fascinated to be shown confidentially was eye-opening in terms of 'reversion to cultural mean average' which is going on here.
The CP seems to be doing better than it has done for years and has elements of solid support amongst over 50s and under 25s. The latter is fascinating and, unlike most other democracies I know well, there is a real linkage of values and political ideas between these groups, not shared by the over 25s to under 55s: they think unfettered capitalism has been bad for Russia (I guess that means me folks) and want more state intervention in the economy and better pensions for their grandparents. Many of these under 25s were brought up largely by their grandmothers (remember average male life expectancy is about 58 years here) while the parents worked the 18 hours a day to scrimp together the food and clothing for subsistence living. These under 25s are fiercely loyal to their olds in a way we just don't see in the west; and were brought up on stories of fatherland and how under the USSR there was order and justice. Go figure...
Many of these under 25s are Putinistas to their core; and the generation VVP is banking on to fulfill his plans to transform Russia. But this generation also don't want conscription and want their iPod...and an iPhone... Now please.
Certainly, if the free-market liberals (the SPS) get seats - this is unlikely - then definitely the election will have been less rigged than the western media claim.
Either way, I still think this is all part of Step-1-2-3 that VVP has in mind for Russia. Step 1, a State Duma dominated by United Russia (think US Republican party, without the religious nuts and the whole let's-war-in-Iraq brigade); Step-2, someone of the same cloth elected President March 2nd 2008; Step-3 - and VVP doesn't need to become Prime Minister to achieve this because enough Team Putin-types are already in all the key posts - ensure transfer of real power from Presidency to Duma. Voilà, sustainable Parliamentary democracy and a structural check/balance on another Stalin ever assuming the Tsar's throne in the Kremlin. Easy huh?
This is managed democracy and, on a 20-30 year view sets up a democratizing path for Russia which no-one can really complain about. The 'I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-right-now' democrats need to get real. Overnight, unfettered democracy in Russia would lead to mayhem and quite possibly the violent breakdown of the Federation. VVP's way may not be pretty, or speedy, but for the next generation of Russians, it might get the job done.
And if you think Russian democracy without Putin is clear, logical and OSCE friendly, see this YouTube piece from the SPS (those nice, western-style, free-market liberals, remember them?). It is in Russian, but you don't need to speak a word to get what they're saying about Putin. That he actually is satan...