Russia Turns to Internet Before Elections Despite Fears of Media Crackdown

By: Qichen Zhang on 1 March 2012
Posted in Elections, Europe, Russia

As the countdown to Russia's national elections this weekend keeps ticking, more Russians are taking to the Internet to stay informed about the election activities as well as to criticize current prime minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin and the government as a whole. Global Voices reported that some bloggers criticized Putin's speech during a February 23 rally at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, telling him to "go away."

Social media websites are also seeing plenty of content uploaded about the election, including jokes and spoofs of Putin. This is happening amid fears that the government will crack down on online activity. It was reported that Russian socialite and celebrity Ksenia Sobchak's political debate show on MTV was cancelled in the country recently. Sobchak, a close family friend and a former supporter of Putin, apparently backed out of affiliation with Putin, which people claim to be the reason behind the cancellation.

The election pitting Vladimir Putin against Mikhail Prokhorov, Gennady Zyuganov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and Sergei Mironov is stirring a lot of online activity partly due to Putin's predicted win. According to The Huffington Post, Putin's return to the presidency is "all but certain." But already, bloggers are denying the legitimacy of the results, even before they come out. Alexei Navalny, one of the most prominent anti-corruption bloggers in the country, told PBS that he along with others opposing Putin will refuse to recognize the election results. "We are quite clear that on March 5, Putin will declare himself the president of Russia," he said. "In fact, he would call himself a czar or an emperor. We will not accept this and we will continue to demand political reforms, new parliamentary elections within a year and new presidential elections within two years."

Despite the disputed legitimacy of the presidential race, Russians now have other digital technologies at their disposal to make this election more transparent. An iPhone application has been developed to allow poll watchers to report voting violations to a precinct immediately. Furthermore, Russian broadcaster Vladimir Pozner's pre-election talk show was uploaded on the Internet uncut and uncensored, a first compared to previous election shows when he mentioned anti-Kremlin figures. This could be seen as an improvement in a country that has been known for its strict censorship practices. As The National Post puts it, many believe that "the genie of media freedom is, slowly, pushing its way out of the bottle in Russia."

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