The West’s reaction to the results of the December 2 Duma elections in Russia strikes me as irrational. "In Russia, the backward march to czarism continues", cries out the headline of Washington Post‘s editorial on Tuesday.
Why such an Apocalyptic prognosis? Has something serious actually happened?
Here are the facts. Four political parties — United Russia (UR), the Communist Party (KPRF), Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and Just Russia (JR) — have been represented in the previous Duma, with the pro-Kremlin UR holding 66% of the Duma seats. On Sunday, the very same four parties were reelected. In the next Duma, UR will enjoy the 70% majority, a very modest gain, given that President Putin was on the top of the UR party list and has personally campaigned for the party.
Why, then, are we being told that the situation in Russia is becoming worse?
Much noise has been made about the allegation that the elections were "rigged", but no credible evidence of the election fraud has been presented.
As I wrote some time ago, election results can be considered "rigged" if a political party receives a percentage of the vote that is significantly different from that which the voters are willing to give it. Was this the case in the December 2 ballot?
Again, here are the facts. According to a November poll conducted by the Levada Center, hardly a friend of the Kremlin, 67% of the voters were going to vote for UR. How is it different from the 64% of the actual vote? Or, take the "pro-Western" Yabloko party, which has collected a disappointing 1.5% of the vote. How is it different from the 2% projected by the Levada poll?
Where are the signs of a massive electoral fraud?
The very speed with which the PACE and OSCE observers condemned the Duma election campaign — by issuing a suspiciously long statement the next morning after the election — suggests reading a prepared script rather than analyzing poll numbers and field reports.
It appears that not the state of democracy in Russia, but something else is on the mind of the OSCE leadership. I strongly suspect that this "something" is the coming OSCE meeting in Madrid. At this meeting, Russia promised to push for OSCE reforms which may well result in Russia cutting its financial support for the organization.
The scathing criticism of Moscow thus seems to be an opening salvo in the battle to save plush jobs for the OSCE bureaucracy.