The decisive result of Russia's parliamentary elections is not the victory for Putin's United Russia but instead for the unprecedented charges of vote fraud and manipulation, says Deutsche Welle's Ingo Mannteufel.
At first glance, the results from Russia's parliamentary elections are not surprising: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, has won around half the votes for the Duma, according to exit polls and initial vote counts. Due to the 7 percent hurdle, United Russia may win an absolute majority of the seats in parliament.
But it would be wrong to view the election results as a victory for Putin's party. The actual result of Russia's elections lies not in the concrete break down of the vote for each party. Instead, the election represents the beginning of the end for Putin's system of "managed democracy."
Russia's current political order legitimates itself through the popularity of Putin and his ruling elite, not free and fair elections. In all the elections in recent years, there has been considerable manipulation and fraud to the benefit of Putin and United Russia, or the "party of power" as it is called. Yet Putin's high approval ratings as president and prime minister diminished the political import of election manipulation and the suppression of opposition groups.
Ingo Mannteufel is the head of DW's Russian service
A slick media campaign has framed Putin as a "national leader" who stood above the fray of daily partisan politics. Elections were designed to simply rubber stamp Putin's leadership or the parties and politicians that enjoyed his seal of approval. As a consequence, a clear majority of Russians simply accepted fraud that benefited United Russia.
Yet Putin's popularity has been sinking for some time now, while anger over the country's politics has grown. Above all, young and educated Russians and the middle class - located primarily in the large cities - have begun to show their discontent with the political system, rampant corruption and the lawlessness stemming from an arbitrary state.
In their eyes, the Putin-driven policies have exhausted their potential. In protest, they either boycotted the elections or voted for other parties, even if those parties may themselves be suspect.
In contrast to previous elections, the manipulations of the current polls have been more clearly noted and condemned. The internet, which is much more free and pluralistic than the state-controlled television landscape, has played a special role. And in light of the many reports of vote fraud, many in Russia now assume that the real support for United Russia may be much lower than the official election results.
The tried and true methods of guiding public opinion and politics are becoming less effective over time as the Kremlin increasingly loses its control over developments. The most interesting post-election question is whether Putin can use the normal instruments of manipulation to win the March 2012 presidential elections or if he will have to resort increasingly to repression. Increased repression would rob Putin's leadership of its legitimacy in the eyes of many Russians, which would be a poor foundation for another six to 12 years in office.
Author: Ingo Mannteufel / slk
Editor: Holly Fox