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    Friday, February 29, 2008

    The elusive 72 per cent

    Stop the presses! The Guardian is reporting the shocking news that the Kremlin is planning to tamper with the results of Sunday's election.

    The Guardian (Tom Parfitt, one of the story's authors, is a friend and a hell of a reporter) quotes election officials around the country who say they've been told that they need to deliver anywhere from 65 per cent to 88 per cent of the vote to Dmitriy Medvedev, with the overall national figure landing somewhere around 72 per cent for Vladimir Putin's sidekick.

    For months, ever since Putin announced that he was backing his long-time aide Medvedev to succeed him, the only question about the election was how big a margin President Medvedev would win by. Now we know.

    Bizarrely, the target is exactly the same as the one the Kremlin set in 2004. After Vladimir Vladimirovich won a second term with a resounding 71.3 per cent of the vote, several of his spin doctors confirmed to me that the 72 per cent had been the officially mandated target (tsk-tsk to those who let down the nation by failing to deliver the additional 0.7 per cent).

    Why? Because it was a wide enough win to make clear to the Kremlin's enemies at home and abroad that Putin was a juggernaut: 72 per cent made it clear that Putin embodied the will of the nation, and those who opposed him were unpatriotic. The lunatic fringe.

    But quietly conscious of criticisms that Russia was sliding away from democracy, the puppet masters (Gleb Pavlovsky, Marat Gelman, Vyacheslav Nikonov, Sergei Markov et al) determined that a higher figure - Putin had been flirting with 80 per cent in some pre-election polls - would seem improbable.

    To their minds, 72 per cent would show the world that a real vote had taken place, and the Kremlin's man had defeated his weak and divided opponents. Eighty per cent smacked of the bad old days where there was only one name on the ballot.

    I'm impressed the Kremlin is still working this hard to try and pretend that democracy is alive and well in its realm.

    My question is, what happens if Medvedev does reach 72 per cent, or (gasp!) 71.4? Does that mean he's more popular than aspiring Prime Minister Putin? Is that allowed?

    A nation holds its breath.

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