Wednesday, 7 March 2012

All Aboard The Last Dictatorship?

If Vladimir Putin was counting on a ‘fixed’ return to a twelve year investment into his own political omnipotence, results indicate he got the pay-off, only with a lot more interest than he might have liked. Golos, a Russian election watchdog, has received information about over 3,000 reported incidences of fraudulent voting. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s monitoring co-ordinator Tonino Picula, called for such reports to be investigated, saying; “there was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.” Amid widespread accusations of multiple voting, and cash inducements, Russians have again taken to the streets, both to celebrate and denounce Putin’s return to the presidency. With the heat of the international spotlight firmly focused on his statistically suspicious success, the former KGB operative may yearn for the cloak and dagger of the Cold War.
There are 6,017,100 Facebook users in Russia, five million on Twitter, and many others on indigenous versions. In a population of 143,030,106 those numbers may feel a little lost, but the social networkers are a growing and significant factor in the socio-political life of the nation. When Prime Minister Putin was booed at a televised martial arts event, Russian state TV swiftly edited the footage to provide a disparagement free version for the second showing. However, not before the original was up on YouTube, with one million viewers in the first 24 hours. The tools of new media are not easily blunted, when a façade of freedom is required, and have proven adept at loosening the grip of your common-or-garden dictator on freedom of expression and assembly. Never was this more potently proven than in the build-up to the Arab Spring. Such was the effect of video and eyewitness accounts of state attempts to stem the uprising in Egypt last January, not to mention the ability to co-ordinate protests via social media, that authorities effectively shut down 88% of the nation’s internet access. Information still seeped out via proxy software to Facebook and Twitter however. According to the Guardian, a total blackout was averted using networks accessible via an undersea cable, operated by Telecom Italia, beyond the reach of the former government. 

Against the backdrop of an increased ability to be held to account for one’s actions by a watchful world, albeit via webcam, has the old school dictatorship had its day? Many commentators predict that despite seemingly securing a new six year term as president, Vladimir Putin may fail to see it out, such is the growing clamour for reform across the nine time zones of Russia. How he responds to the current climate of protest will define the nature of his next term in office, and likely his exit from it, as gone are the days of hidden deeds in Europe’s developing democracies.

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