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European Press Review: Triumph for Putin, Blow for Democracy

European papers on Tuesday continued casting a critical eye on the outcome of the Russian elections and the stormy exit of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe from the Commonwealth.

London’s Financial Times called Russia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday a triumph for President Vladimir Putin and a serious defeat for democracy. This comes after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe pointed out that Russian authorities corrupted the election through their control over the administrative machine and the media, the paper wrote. It urged much needed political and economic reforms and added that with the liberals out of the way, the Duma will face less pressure to speed up economic liberalization. At the same it warned that the new Duma is unlikely to champion media freedom or democratic rights and nor will it question the president’s hard-line Chechnya policies.

France’s Le Monde said Putin emerged as the election winner because he flattered the electorate by promoting the theme of a Russia which has been humiliated for too long. The daily concluded that all this has a name, "populism," and the Russian president is a populist master.

Spanish paper El Pais pronounced that such tactics have resulted in a democratically unclean poll, while Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that the campaigning tactics are a concern. The German paper said the parliamentary election is a step on the way to return Russia to superpower status.

Other European papers turned their attention to the turbulent meeting of the Commonwealth, where Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe decided to pull his country out of the group after pressure from non-African member states.

British daily The Independent said the decision by President Robert Mugabe to leave the Commonwealth is a sign that the 54-nation body still has the power to inflict some diplomatic pain. Zimbabwe’s pullout shows that the Commonwealth still matters to Mr. Mugabe and is therefore a positive result, the paper wrote. It opined that the Zimbabwe issue could have been solved sooner if South Africa had been more forthright in dealing with its African neighbor. Instead of condemning the human rights abuse committed by Zimbabwe, South African gave financial and food aid to prop up Zimbabwe’s failing economy. According to the paper, President Mbeki could have brought down Mr. Mugabe at any point in the past five years by withdrawing this support. Some of that reluctance to act against Mr Mugabe is down to a misplaced sense of sentimentality about his status as a son of Africa. The paper concluded that if President Mbeki wants to send a signal to the world that he would like his nation to remain a symbol of hope he should do everything in his power to persuade his old Zimbabwean friend to relent or retire.

The Netherland’s Volkskrant said Mugabe had hoped that he could win over a majority of the Commonwealth by playing the race card, but his tired rhetoric against "imperialistic" and "white" great powers was no longer convincing.