President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into allegations of fraud in Russia’s parliamentary election, one day after tens of thousands of protesters demanded it be annulled and rerun.
Medvedev responded on his Facebook site to the protesters’ complaints that the December 4 election was slanted to favour of his and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but did not mention their calls for an end to Putin’s rule.
“I do not agree with any slogans or statements made at the rallies. Nevertheless, instructions have been given by me to check all information from polling stations regarding compliance with the legislation on elections,” Medvedev said in a post on the social media site.
“Citizens of Russia have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. People have a right to express the position that they did yesterday. It all took place within the framework of the law,” he added.
His statement was a sign that the Russian leadership feels under pressure after the biggest opposition protests since Putin rose to power in 1999. The protesters themselves used social media to organise their rallies.
In a further sign of recognition that the people’s mood has changed after years of tight political control by Putin, city authorities across Russia allowed Saturday’s protests to go ahead and riot police hardly intervened.
State television and other Russian channels also broadcast footage of a huge protest in Moscow, breaking a policy of showing almost no negative coverage of the authorities.
I do not think the protests will stop Putin becoming President again, and the investigation will probably be a whitewash. However the significance of the protests is that they are occurring, and are being reported on. This is healthy.
These protests, plus the Arab spring, shows how vital it is that the Internet remain out of Government control.