A glass of water

If I had to visualize the results of the Dec. 4 Duma elections in Russia, I would have come up with this image: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sitting at the table with a glass of water in front of him.  The glass is half-full.  Or half-empty.

From the perspective of the executive branch of the Russian government – the only perspective that seems to matter to Putin – nothing tragic has happened.  Given its iron intraparty discipline, even with 238 of the total 425 Duma seats, the United Russia party will still enjoy unbeatable majority in the 6th Duma.  Which will make it fully capable of continuing to approve “the right decisions at the right time” – exactly as Putin expects any “efficient” parliament to operate.  From this point of view, Putin’s glass is as full as it was back in 2003 or 2007.

Yet, it was obviously not lost on Putin that while United Russia has won an election – albeit not very persuasively, given that its six opponents failed to present any compelling alternative election platforms – it has lost a referendum with the Russian voters, and lost it twice.  First, by bringing in only 49.3 percent of the public vote, United Russia has failed to win the approval of even a simple majority of Russians.  Second, by facing large post-election protests in Moscow and other cities, United Russia was loudly told that even this modest result was considered by the public – whether justifiably or not — a product of massive fraud.  From this point of view, Putin’s glass is empty and drying.

Putin has all the reasons to feel concerned.  The next Duma elections might be five years away, but in less than three months, he will participate in the presidential election, an event that so far, has been deliberately staged as a public referendum on Putin.  Indeed, lacking serious – that is, capable of beating him at the poll — contenders in 2000 and 2004, Putin always behaved as if the presidential elections were not a competition between him and other candidates, but, rather, a “deal” between him and the Russian voters.  This was reflected even in the way Putin used to conduct his election “campaigns:” no formal election speeches, no TV debates with fellow candidates.

Will Putin reverse the course in the months ahead of the March 4 vote?  Will he take part in TV debates with the presidential candidates from the Communist party, LDPR and Yabloko?  Putin’s public debating skills remain largely unknown; in any case, even holding his ground against fierce Vladimir Zhirinovsky or brainy Grigory Yavlinsky – both experienced debaters – won’t be easy.  Besides, Putin is likely to be asked a question he would prefer not answering: why is it him and not the current President Dmitry Medvedev who’s running?

In the days following the Sunday elections, Putin revealed what appear to be major hallmarks of his current election bid.  First, he’s trying to distance himself from the United Russia party.  In an interview with the BBC’s Russian Service on Tuesday, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that “Putin was never directly connected” to the party.  Peskov’s statement sounds almost surreal, given that United Russia’s website still lists Putin as its Chairman.  This morning, Putin expressed having “tender feelings” toward United Russia and then announced that his presidential campaign will be based instead on the All-Russia People’s Front he hastily created last May.

Second, during a meeting on Tuesday with heads of United Russia’s public reception offices, Putin issued a strongly worded promise to fight corruption using both “formal and informal” resources.  It’s therefore quite possible that in the run up to the election, a couple of mid-ranked government officials will be sacked with great fanfare.

It’s hard to say which election result will be considered a “victory” by Putin himself.  Formally, in order to get elected in the first round of the vote — and this objective was explicitly stated by his campaign staff — Putin needs to take over 50 percent of the ballots, something that looks quite realistic today.  Yet, we remember that in 2004, Putin’s score stood at 71 percent, a result that can hardly be achieved next year without the helpful hand of the Central Election Commission.  Everything above 50 will be considered Putin’s election win, but will he take anything below 71 as a referendum victory commensurate with his status as the “nation leader?”

We may not have the answer to this question until March 5.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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20 Responses to A glass of water

  1. Alexander MercourisA says:

    Dear Eugene,

    Based on the election there is no possibility in my opinion of Putin either losing the election or of winning anything like 70%. I would expect him to get around 60%, which is more than enough.

    I would say two things about the elections:

    1. I doubt that there was any significant fraud since the results were broadly in line with pre election opinion polls and with the exit polls. I accept that the exit poll in Moscow was anomalous but I am sure the problem was with the exit poll not with the count and was due to a sampling error. As for belief in election fraud there are some people obviously who believe it but one must be careful not to confuse their views with those of the majority of people.

    2. One thing the election has however done is brought me totally round to your idea of reducing the election threshold to 3%. There is a very useful chart on the Novosti website showing the breakdown of the vote region by region and it is clear that the Yabloko is highly concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg where it is respectively 8% and 12% of the total vote. It is an unhealthy situation when what is a significant proportion of the population of the two capitals is not represented in the country’s parliament and I suspect that this is behind some of the bitterness and anger at the outcome of the election.

    • Dear Alexander,

      I wish I responded to you yesterday:) Yesterday, I had certain clarity of mind with regards to the Duma elections and Putin’s prospects.

      But this morning, I read a number of comments in the Russian blogosphere analyzing the results of the elections — with numbers taken directly from the Central Election Commission’s website — from the statistical point of view. The results show that for 3 parties — KPRF, JR, and LDPR — the voting pattern follows the expected normal (Gaussian) distribution of votes collected over different polling stations, that is a symmetrical curve with a peak at 20%, 13%, and 12%, respectively. There is one exception: the results for UR. In this particular case, the curve is largely exponential with an inflection point at about 30%. This implies that there were (massive) additions of the voters in favor of UR boosting its performance from about 30% to 50%.

      At this point, I’m profoundly confused as I can’t reconcile these data with the polling/exit-polling data I share with you. I wish someone could make sense for these conflicting data for me.

      I’m also very concerned about the outcome of the protest action planned in Moscow for tomorrow. Until I see what happens tomorrow and in the following days, I’ll be withholding my forecast for Putin’s election prospects.


      • It does http://przyrbwn.icm.edu.pl/APP/PDF/114/a114z312.pdf not have to be Gaussian. UR’s results can be described with the log-normal distribution.

        The real indicators of fraud are:

        1. Spikes at 5% intervals
        2. A very fat tail that never converges to zero as…
        3. It begins to build to a huge spike at 100%, thanks in part to Kadyrov’s prodigious efforts.

        These are obviously significant, but nowhere near the level (20%) you get from assuming symmetry.

        My favorite estimate is the one you get by comparing real results against the results of the FOM exit poll (the most comprehensive one), which covered 82 regions and 80,000 voters. It is very likely valid as it was removed from their site in a hurry. Their data shows that UR probably got about 43%. So the falsification was probably on the order of 5-8%. I will have an article out on this soon.

        • Anatoly,

          I’m TERRIBLY sorry: your comment was stuck in the spam folder, and I only noticed it a few minutes ago. This site is still new to me as I learn something new every day. I promise to be more vigilant in the future.

          I do look forward to your article on this. By the way, 43% is 194 Duma seats — not even a simple majority.

          My apology again and regards,

  2. Alex says:

    Eugene, I love the style – I’ll read you more frequently 🙂
    But I don’t think that “getting over 50%” will be that easy – if at all possible, considering how “thoughtfully” the current Government deals with the current protests.

  3. Thanks Alex,

    As I just responded to Alexander, let’s wait and see what happens in Moscow tomorrow and in the following days/weeks. If there could be a situation where I didn’t want to be correct in my predictions, that’s it. However, at this particular point, I wouldn’t bet my money on anything, including the fact of the presidential election on March 4. Sorry for being so pessimistic on Friday:)


    • Quetzalcoatl says:

      So then everyone is pessimistic about these protests? Do they have a real goal or are they just trying to burn the house down again? Boris Berezovsky’s giant head will be appearing in London’s tomorrow, so that may turn a few off.

      • Dear Quetzalcoatl,

        The protesters have clearly said that they had three immediate goals:

        1. To free “political prisoners,” meaning the people arrested on Dec. 5-6;
        2. Calling the results of the elections invalid and holding new elections;
        3. Firing the current Head of the Central Election Commission Churov.

        IMHO, meeting the demands #1 and #3 won’t “burn the house.” Instead, it will rather diffuse the tension. The demand #2 is loaded, to say the very least, and is close to your idea of “burning the house.” So, if I were the Kremlin, I would have agreed to #1 and #3 and stood solid on #2. I believe that there is enough sane folks in the protester camp who would make this deal. Whether there is enough sanity in the Kremlin to do the same, remains to be seen.

        You haven’t been commenting in this space lately, and we missed you. Do come back.


        • zed244 says:

          It is a pity we are not the Government 🙂 Even though I would have just called for a partial re-election – only at places where legit complaints were submitted.
          PS Attended a micro-demonstration today myself …http://bit.ly/uXa8Sf . Maybe I will write something later – because I have somewhat mixed feelings about it ..

        • Hildegard says:

          Hey… Interesting post on voip equipment. By the way… Just found this roecurse where you can post your own articles on – if you have something you want to share with the world. Besides, at the same time you’ll get a link back to your own site on anything concerning – or whatever else you’d like… why don’t you check it out for yourself now…

  4. Alex,

    Thanks for the pictures — looks great! If only they had such a weather in Moscow…

    A strange thought came to me this morning. I felt sorry for Medvedev that he wasn’t allowed to go for re-election. Perhaps, Medvedev is sitting at home and smiling: it’s Putin not him who is now facing the job that suddenly got so much tougher.

    A pity that Just Russia nominated Mironov for president. Oskana Dmitrieva would have been much better choice.


  5. marknesop says:

    Hello, Zhenya;

    It seems to me very unlikely that United Russia would rig the election so that it lost votes. If, as some suggest, there was massive ballot-stuffing and that’s the only thing that prevented United Russia from being crushed, winding up with about 31% of the vote, then there’s no point whatsoever in doing advance polling prior to Russian elections, because every time advance polls have been within a couple of percentage points of the actual results. Obviously, those were all wrong, and United Russia has cheated massively in every election in which it has participated. But since, for example, advance polls showed Medvedev winning with about 70% of the vote and Medvedev did win with about 70% of the vote, I have to admit it’s too clever for me; I just can’t see how they’re doing it.

    There have been several good explanations for the Gaussian oddities with the Moscow poll; there’s a very detailed one here


    by Kirill, at Anatoly’s blog. People seem suddenly to all be disciples of Gaussian theory – Kirill points out that bimodal distributions for votes are not evidence of fraud. There seems to be something odd about the exit poll for Moscow.

    There’s also a very good piece at yesterday’s eXile, detailing OSCE’s assistance in rigging the vote for Yeltsin and the west’s subsequent disillusionment with Putin once they realized he was not just another patsy. The main thrust of the testimony that the Russian results were suppressed and the election declared free and fair by the OSCE comes from Michael Meadowcroft, who headed the Russian mission for OSCE in 1996.


    • Hi Mark,

      At the risk of overfeeding you with the Gaussian food, take a look at this article:


      (Actually, this guy has been studying Russian elections for years).

      I’m not saying that bimodal distribution is evidence of fraud. However, I’d like that someone gave me a clear explanation of why elections in Russia are so different from elections in Mexico, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine. Why do they have Gaussian distribution there and Russia doesn’t? And the second question, why does the curve showing the votes for UR have these funny spikes at all round numbers: 60%, 65%, 70%? Can any distribution account for that? Well, the explanation that precincts had their “target numbers” — a notion corroborated in the media — can.

      By the way, although not statistically valid, there is a funny observation: at the precinct where Putin voted — and where supposedly there was not ballot meddling in respect for
      Putin — UR got only 27%.

      Mark, precise numbers aside, there are serious issues on the ability of the system to conduct clean elections — 3 months before the presidential poll. And instead of starting a dialogue with the opposition, the Kremlin seems to believe that by simply allowing the Saturday demonstration and ordering the police not to interfere, it has answered all the questions and can now close the chapter. This isn’t how I’d expect a responsible government behave.

      • marknesop says:

        I’m afraid that, at bottom, what I just don’t get about this passion for change and electoral diversity is that politicians are the same the world over. Everyone says, “vote for me, and brother, things’ll be so good you won’t be able to believe it”. You find out they can’t deliver or are a miserable failure as a leader after you elect them, and then you have to put up with them for the rest of their term (usually) or overthrow them with a revolution. If they were the preferred candidate of the west, those attempting to overthrow the leader will be portrayed as insurrectionist criminals (unlike the “freedom fighters” they always are when they’re overthrowing someone the west doesn’t care for), and the movement will meet with stiff resistance from the west in the form of a media campaign against it, and quite possibly the deployment of western forces in support. That’s a difficult scenario to imagine in Russia if, say, there was a rerun of the elections and Zyuganov won, but you never know.

        The world has seen this time and again, but never seems to learn.

        But Russia is different from all the rest. The west has tried to dominate it numerous times and by numerous means, and never quite succeeded. Yet it signals by word and deed that its ambition to do so is undiminished. Overwhelming evidence suggests the world is simply going to rely on a petroleum-based economy until the resource runs out, and Russia is the world’s largest producer; the default western go-to, Saudi Arabia, is likely to be running short soon (reserves are a closely-guarded secret), and much of its crude is not very good quality anyway. The western energy giants have indicated many times that they would dearly love to have unrestricted access to Russian supplies. Some of the worst regimes in the world have been WTO members since the mid-90’s – but Russia is stopped at the door because of human rights violations and corruption. Maybe Ukraine and Mexico and Poland have perfect Gaussian distributions because it suits the OSCE to portray them that way; I don’t know.

        All the foregoing serves to support two points, for me: why would you willingly give up stability in exchange for an unknown you might not be able to reverse before irreparable damage was done, and why is western intent consistently misread by malcontents despite plenty of examples that such intent is other than making Russia a prosperous western-oriented democracy?

        • Thanks Mark,

          A couple of points in response. First, I think that the danger of Western attempts at dominating Russia is grossly overblown. I believe that most of the Russian problems are of domestic origin (fools, roads…you know). At any rate accusing people who oppose you in being paid “by the West” borders on indecency.

          Second, as I tried to explain in one of my previous posts, yes, I’m for stability if opposed to chaos, and no, I’m against stability if opposed to change. Besides, I believe that stability is provided by developed democratic institutions, not by a person, however capable. And look, between 2004 and 2008, the Russian political class has been paralyzed by anxiety over whether Putin would go for the 3rd term or find a successor. And between 2008 and 2011 by anxiety over whether Medvedev “stays” or Putin “returns.” You call this stability?

          Finally, I’m afraid you’re missing my point. I’m not against of Putin becoming president. All I want is him earning the presidency in clean elections. And yes, I’d very much like his elections results following the normal, i.e. Gaussian, distribution:)


  6. As to Putin’s chances (and let me again say I believe he should not/not have decided to run again) in the election, who’s he going to be running against?
    Has the KPRF taken the time to change leadership – no, same old Zyuganov yet again; Zhirinovkiy’s party is running guess who. Even Yabloko back with same old same old. And the latest news says Mironov will be the man for Just Russia.
    So where’s the choice? I cannot believe that these young middle class people who turned out in droves on Saturday are going to vote for the others (maybe Mironov will get some votes – at least he’s not as stale).
    My guess is (at this time) that these young people will stay at home and not vote. (I also suspect that they might/might have voted – maybe with clenched teeth – for Medvedev).

    • Thanks Patrick,

      I agree on the candidate roster: it’s a shame. I secretly hoped that Mironov would continue his “rebellious” stretch and let the JR nominate Oksana Dmitrieva. I know, I know, she reportedly didn’t want this herself. But she’d be terrific in TV debates: intelligent, knowledgeable, competent in economic and social issues, a former minister, etc. But I guess, VVP called Mironov, and Mironov couldn’t turn down a request from the old friend:)

      However, I’m not sure I share your prediction. Remember, before the Duma elections, there were two “schools of thought?” Nemtsov & Co. advocated spoiling the ballots, while Navalny called for voting for anyone but UR. Navalny seemingly prevailed in the public opinion, and that’s why we now have so many additional votes cast for the opposition.

      So, what will prevent these young people from repeating the same thing: to show up and vote for ANYONE BUT PUTIN? They, for example, could vote — if even with clenched teeth — for Yavlinsky. I personally consider doing just that. Unless, in the very last minute, I’ll switch to Limonov:)


  7. Dunno.
    Duma’s for fun, President’s for real.
    President Even-Staler-than-VVP is not a good idea (let alone Pres Limonov)
    But — here’s a real game changer — VVP steps down as candidate. That would change everything in an instant. (Probability? haven’t a clue)

    • Patrick,

      Sure, this will cause a political crisis of epic proportions. But hardly the end of Russia, IMHO. Don’t you think that all these talks about lacking “an alternative” to Putin is just an attempt to mask the simple fact that there are enough capable guys and gals in today’s Russia.

      Kozak, Khloponin, Belych — and yes, Valya Matvienko, why not? After all, in 1999, Yeltsin brought Putin from nowhere, and it took us only a few months to realize that there was no alternative to Putin for the next quarter of a century. Bizarre, isn’t it?


  8. Thalia Ket says:

    I found your posting to be insightful! Thank you.

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