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Dissenters to demonstrate on weekend again, but Putin likely to win in first round

February 03, 2012, 17:56 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Despite the protest sentiment in Russia’s largest cities Vladimir Putin will be elected president in any case, experts say. And most likely in the first round.

Moscow on Saturday, February 4, may see the largest-ever rallies and street processions. It looks like the largest crowd will gather for a rally called by the Opposition. This street procession in support of the demand For Fair Elections will march from Oktyabrskaya square to Bolotnaya square.

And at the Poklonnaya Hill memorial there will be a rally by Putin’s supporters. The Liberal Democratic Party will demonstrate in Pushkinskaya Square, and a place in Sakharov Avenue has been reserved by the semi-forgotten politician Konstantin Borovoi, who is inviting people to come to his rally For Fair Elections and Democracy – without nationalists and Communists. All events are scheduled to begin at the same time – Saturday noon sharp.

Those angry about what they claim was rigged vote counting after the December elections to the State Duma have staged two large rallies so far – on December 10 and December 24. The latest one, according to various estimates, gathered 70,000 to 100,000. This time the organizers and the Mayor’s Office have agreed on a rally by 50,000.

The movement For Fair Elections, relying heavily on Russia’s middle class, has turned into a protest movement of civil society from the outset and gone far beyond the bounds of purely election demands. As a matter of fact, it has formalized peaceful protest against a situation of the past ten years, when the normal operation of the democratic the political system has been sacrificed to political stability.

The main issue of the day is not how the election to the State Duma was held, but about how the March 4 election of the president will proceed. At the decision of the organizing committee of the rally For Fair Elections the participants will be asked not to vote for Vladimir Putin. The second item of the resolution will be a call for participating in the election in the capacity of observers.

The rest items of the resolution repeat the ideas of the previous rallies in Bolotnaya Square and in Sakharov Square. These are the demands for freeing political prisoners, dismissing Central Election Committee chairman Vladimir Churov, cancelling the State Duma elections and registering new oppositional parties for participation in the elections.

The members of the organizing committee have also discussed the motto to be carried at the head of the column. Some of the proposed ones are For Fair Elections, These Elections Are a Farce, Putin Must Go and Yavlinsky for President (at the CEC decision the founder of the Yabloko party was denied registration as a presidential candidate due a large percentage of invalid signatures collected in his support).

Although the authorities have not formally entered into a dialogue with the protesters, the conclusions were derived virtually in no time. President Dmitry Medvedev after the December 10 rally declared the intention to liberalize the political system. In part, he promised to ease the registration of political parties and restore the elections of governors.

The worst problem of the protest movement, which, alongside Moscow, has emerged in some other cities with a population of over one million, is its patchwork nature and lack of a recognized center and political leaders. The civil protest has united both apolitical well-to-do city dwellers, irreconcilable opponents of the authorities, nationalists, liberals and left-wing radicals.

This situation is reflected in the structure of the forthcoming march by the Opposition. It will be divided into four columns – middle-of-the-road civil activists, left-wingers, liberals and nationalists. One of the intrigues of the forthcoming event is which of the four will be most popular, and who are in the majority at the demonstration.

According the organizers, the general civil column will be the largest – no less than 20,000. However, many civil activists have started voicing protests on the Internet over what they see as politicians’ attempts to spearhead a popular movement. They are against several columns. The presence of nationalists among the demonstrators makes many feel certain fears, too.

Putin’s supporters are going to demonstrate at the Poklonnaya Hill memorial, although officially the United Russia party, and All-Russia Popular Front have nothing to do with its organization. Some media say that school teachers and public sector employees are being compelled to go and demonstrate.

Putin’s supporters dismiss the charges. State Duma deputy speaker, Lyudmila Shvetsova, has said that the prime minister’s opponents have launched a massive defamation campaign against him in the world web.

“We must firmly resist the massive, wholesale criticism, in fact, harassment – I cannot think of a better word for it – that has hit Vladimir Putin in the electronic mass media and in the social networks of late,” Shvetsova said at a meeting of the coordination center on Thursday.

She believes that the authorities must turn an attentive ear to the protesters, “but that does not mean that they should bow to the organizers of the protest demonstrations.”

Another member of the Putin election team in Moscow, film director Karen Shakhnazarov, explained why he decided to back the current prime minister in the forthcoming elections.

“I can smell the 1990s. I have felt this smell for the past few months. It’s a bad odor. The older people know well what the smell is all about. I am not going to see the collapse of the country and everything that may follow it,” Shakhnazarov said.

He said that the approaches and the rhetoric some politicians have been using of late looked very familiar to him. “I can sense it, I can see it, and this is what has puzzled me most of all,” the film director said. In his opinion Putin these days is a “safeguard of the country’s stability and integrity.”

It is noteworthy that the forthcoming march For Fair Elections has in fact placed widely apart the systemic opposition, which nominated its own candidates, for the presidency, and the non-systemic one. Three presidential candidates – the CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov, A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov, and self-nominee multi-billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov – have refused to speak at the rally for a variety of reasons.

Experts have been discussing at length who is going to demonstrate, what these people of different age and social status have in common, and why has the movement of dissenters has emerged at all.

“The demonstrations have shown that the latent disease has developed into an open form. Society is running a temperature,” the daily Trud quotes the president of the Public Opinion Foundation, Alexander Oslon, as saying. “The symptoms manifested themselves back at the beginning of 2011. We have been witnesses to a change of priorities. The demands have a bearing on morality by and large, and not on the economy.”

Marches by dissenters, in his opinion are “the social demand of people seeking success.”

“They are ambitious, energetic, up-to-date. We call them Generation-21 – this type of the person has taken shape at the beginning of this century. According to our estimates, the socially active group constitutes 15-17 percent.” Most of them experience surprise, and not anger. “Anger is felt by a microscopic part of the dissenters, so-called professional revolutionaries, who wish to ruin everything.”

“The demand for fair elections is just a pretext,” Oslon said. “It’s like a kitchen quarrel – the husband is scolding his wife for a burnt beefstake. The real message is he does not love her anymore.”

“Generation-21 wishes a fair election, too. But still more they wish to say that they want some new authorities, some new state. What sort of they do not know yet themselves.”

The sociologist believes that everybody who is involved in the events has changed – the officials, the demonstrators, the journalists and even the secret service agents. “For the past few years the authorities have not received any bright, strong messages something is going wrong. Now there has arrived such a signal. And: Vladimir Putin has shown that is prepared to adapt to the situation.”

It is noteworthy that the leadership of United Russia in its instructions to the grass-roots cells as to what technical assistance they might furnish to their presidential candidate Vladimir Putin have warned that they should refrain from administrative pressures in organizing rallies in Putin’s support.

On Thursday, as the daily Kommersant reports, the party bosses advised the regional activists to refrain from administrative pressures that would merely harm the candidate’s image.

“I am saying again that the participation of people in mass activities the party has arranged for should be voluntary. True, mobilization is in progress, but nobody is compelling anyone. This does not work. We are interested to see people show up of their own accord, and not because they were under pressure,” said the leader of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, Andrei Vorobyov.

Whatever the case, experts are unanimous that Generation-21 are in the minority. According to the Public Opinion Foundation, more than half of the country has not even heard about the rallies. And a majority of those who have heard about them, even in simmering Moscow, does not like them. The active part of the population has no obvious candidate, so the chances of a presidential election runoff are very slim.

MOSCOW, February 3