Moscow, Dec 6: Putting up a brave front after being hit by a poll debacle, allegations of ballot rigging and massive demonstrations denouncing his leadership, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today said the election losses were, but “inevitable” for an incumbent party.
Putin's statement came a day after his United Russia party lost its parliamentary majority in Sunday's Duma polls that were marred by accusations of fraud by independent observers.
An anti-Putin wave seemed to have swept Moscow following the results as thousands of protesters, the largest in over a decade, took to the streets chanting a “Russia without Putin!” and “Down with the Party of Swindlers and Thieves!”.
Even as hundreds were arrested and thousands of troops were deployed to prevent another demonstration in the capital, Putin sought to play down the election reverses, saying his party had retained a “stable” majority.
“Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable,” the 59-year-old Russian strongman, a former KGB agent, said.
“They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country,” he said.
United Russia obtained 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma in Sunday's polls, down sharply from the 315 seats it won in the last polls in 2007, election commission chief Vladimir Churov told reporters.
The election was also hit by widespread allegations of fraud in poll procedure in favour of United Russia. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “serious concerns” while contending that Russia voters deserved a “full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation”.
Putin's party has suffered a decline in support for the first time, losing its crucial two-thirds majority, winning 49.35 per cent of the vote as against 64 per cent in 2007. International observers from the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe reported “flagrant procedural violations,” including cases of ballot-stuffing.
OSCE also blamed the political system which it said marked “a convergence of the state and the governing party,” limited political competition and a lack of fairness. As allegations flew thick, President Dmitry Medvedev warned the West against criticising his country's political system.
“If they watch over the elections, the violations—that is one thing... But the question of what the political systems look like—that is none of their business,” RIA Novosti quoted Medvedev as saying.
Last night, the Russian capital witnessed its biggest mass protest in years as thousands took to streets shouting anti-Putin slogans, challenging the outcome of Sunday's Duma polls.
The rally allowed by city authorities in downtown Moscow, outside the Chistiye Prudi metro station, last night turned into a mass protest against Putin and his party. According to various claims, from 2,000 to 10,000 people had gathered.
Hundreds of people carrying identical red whistles were blowing them to ‘whistle out Putin' and shouting slogans— the news was completely blacked out by state-run channels.
According to liberal websites the police arrested at least 300 people including the influential whistleblower against rampant corruption in the government Alexei Navalny. About 120 people were also detained at a protest in St Petersburg.
A Moscow court today meted out a 15-day “administrative arrest as penalty” to opposition activist Ilya Yashin for disobeying police during the unsanctioned rally in Moscow.
Over 11,000 troops were deployed in Moscow after the capital was taken over by anti-Putin demonstrators.