Protests over Putin's victory in Russia vote 'will diminish'
Updated: 2012-03-09 08:01
By Hu Yinan and Wang Huazhong in Moscow (China Daily)
Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin's presidential campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin, 75, says the protesters of "the cleanest election" in Russian history will soon fall out of favor. Wang Huazhong / China Daily
Protesters against Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin's landslide electoral victory will diminish and soon fall out of favor, his campaign chief said, as Moscow City Hall approved a massive rally on Saturday.
The protests will attract "5,000 to 15,000 people now, 2,000 people tomorrow, and by the day after tomorrow, only 200 people will be attending the rally," Stanislav Govorukhin told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
Govorukhin said the elections on Sunday, which saw Putin secure a third presidential term with 63.6 percent of the vote, were the "cleanest" in Russian history.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who finished a distant second with just 17.18 percent, called the results "illegitimate". Independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, who finished third with 7.98 percent, also considered the elections unfair.
Putin, currently Russia's prime minister, on Wednesday said there might have been violations in the vote, but they in no way affected the larger picture.
"Violations are possible, but they can only affect hundredths of a percentage point. Well, a percentage point. Not more than that," he said.
Dismissing allegations of ballot rigging by busing people around the polling stations to repeatedly vote for him, Putin said: "You can't bus in 45 million people. There are things you can't argue about."
Protest leaders are struggling to keep momentum, after turnout for the last rally in downtown Moscow on Monday -around 20,000 - was considerably lower than they expected.
Mass rallies against alleged vote fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia Party in the lower parliamentary elections in December, the largest in decades, have taken the world's largest country by surprise.
Dialogue with the opposition must continue, according to Govorukhin. "We will undoubtedly listen to the demands of those who practice their constitutional right to hit the streets and express their dissatisfaction over the way things are. That, I think, is also what the new government and the president-elect will do," he said in his office opposite the White House, the Russian parliament building.
"And indeed, (we will) stop overseas forces from financing (the opposition)," he said, noting that although some protesters do have genuine desires for change, the West's support for the Russian opposition "actually exist".
Putin has seen his support decline in major cities. He pulled in 47.22 percent of the vote in Moscow, far lower than his solid bases in the Russian countryside. Prokhorov was the second-favorite in the Russian capital with 20.21 percent.
For Govorukhin, the results were hardly surprising. "We had predicted those kinds of results - about 46 percent - in Moscow," he said, stressing those who rallied against Putin in the city are mostly young people fond of Western culture and lifestyle.
The veteran film director-turned-politician, who earlier called the Internet "a dump", said he never intended to buy support from the Internet-savvy population. By contrast, Prokhorov, Russia's third-richest man who also owns the New Jersey Nets team of the National Basketball Association, is a regular LiveJournal blogger.
Govorukhin, 75, said Prokhorov capitalized on the dissatisfaction of the youth, and that he has a far weaker support base than the vote suggested.
"If our legislative institutions were able to add the option of 'against all candidates' to the vote, then Prokhorov would have gotten a mere 2 percent, not 20 percent (in Moscow). All the rest would have gone to 'against all candidates'," he said.
Putin on Wednesday said the young tycoon, who he described as "a serious man and a good entrepreneur", could get a seat in the new government if he wants it. Prokhorov, who attended the Monday rally and said he would soon establish a new party, has said he would not take up any official post.
Govorukhin, for his part, spoke harshly of Prokhorov. "We all know that Prokhorov became a billionaire in two to three months, in a process of deceptive privatization of State-owned assets," he said, while dismissing some outside speculation that Prokhorov is a Kremlin-backed project.
Govorukhin, a vocal critic of Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin, supported Zyuganov against Yeltsin in the 1996 elections, and then ran for presidency himself against Putin in the latter's first electoral race in 2000.
"Yeltsin and his compatriots are sinners for ruining our country. Of course I opposed his successor. I opposed Putin and was completely unable to accept him," he recalled.
"But in half a year, I saw what the man did and the character he has. He soon realized Russia's national sovereignty," Govorukhin said, citing Putin's successful military campaign against separatists in Chechnya in 1999.
He said his feelings toward Putin changed by 2005, when he began to "deeply respect and even admire" the Russian leader.
Putin appointed Govorukhin as his campaign chief in December.
"Putin openly said why he appointed me - because I'm an honest, just man who used to criticize him a lot. That's why he made me his campaign chief - to let everyone see that the elections are fair and transparent," Govorukhin said.
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Cheng Guangjin in Beijing contributed to this story.
(China Daily 03/09/2012 page11)