Vladimir Putin has been planning for months to take a bath tonight. When a member of his United Russia party asked him over the summer what his first step would be after the 2012 presidential election, Putin said that he would go wash himself – “in the hygienic as well as political sense of the word.”
“After all the campaigns ahead of us, it will be necessary to attend to hygiene,” Putin explained to an auditorium full of party faithful in Yekaterinburg in June. “I’m sure about that unfortunately, but it’s an unavoidable process.” (Click here for the official English transcript.)
It was one of those weird Putin wisecracks that says volumes more than his collected speeches and manifestos. But today, on election day, it was back to the official script.
Putin’s septuagenarian campaign manager, film director Stanislav Govorukhin, told reporters that today’s elections were “the cleanest in history.” Whether he meant Russian history or world history is for quibblers. This was the same man who confessed in February that he could barely use a telephone and had only recently learned about the existence of Facebook. “I don’t even know what Twitter is,” he said almost proudly.
Facebook and Twitter were abuzz today with reports of dirty tricks, such as groups of people voting multiple times and election monitors getting kicked out of polling stations.
Yet Putin’s biggest challenge this year wasn’t winning an election that was tipped in his favor from the start. His biggest challenge is still ahead: dealing with the deepest crisis of trust of his 12-year rule.
With tears in his eyes, Putin told a vast crowd of bussed-in supporters outside the Kremlin this evening that the election had been “an open, honest fight.”
Why should anybody believe him?
In Russia, a university diploma or drivers license can be bought without too much trouble. Historic buildings are torn down to be replaced by monstrous imitations; unknown organizations pretend to hold philanthropic galas; and bureaucrats threaten businesspeople with trumped-up court cases.
Parliament is filled with four artificial parties that adopt laws that nobody follows. Dmitry Medvedev’s entire presidency has turned out to be a sleight of hand designed to let Putin get around a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms.
Everything else is fake but the elections are real?
Moscow’s anti-government protesters gather on Pushkin Square tomorrow evening.