Just two weeks after the Russian capital saw its biggest opposition rally in nearly twenty years, Russians unhappy with the results of the December 4 parliamentary elections have gathered once again.
But this time, it’s in even bigger numbers, with the hopes that their collective voice will be heard. They have come together to protest against vote fraud – and to demand a new ballot.
Protest organizers claim up to 120,000 people gathered for the rally. Police, however, put the figure at 29,000 at the peak of the rally. Officials said the numbers cited by activists would have been physically impossible for the site.
Independent observers, who counted people passing through metal detectors at the entrance to the site, estimate the total number of protesters at around 72,000. Proof of the number is available upon request, observers say.
This time, the demonstration went on even more smoothly than the previous one, with no reported arrests during or following the rally. A group of nationalist activists, who were blamed for lighting flares in the crowd during the protest on December 10, restricted themselves to critical hoots and hisses.
The rally was being held on Akademika Sakharova Boulevard, with nearby streets closed off to traffic. Police refrained from calling in reinforcements from the Defense Ministry, but were maintaining a presence at the rally; metal detectors and barriers were set in advance.
RT’s crew at the scene said the police on duty were friendly and polite, a fact which has also been stressed by human right activists at the rally.
Thirty people were scheduled to speak including actors, journalists, musicians, politicians and businessmen, but only a dozen actually took to the stage. The reality confirms the results of recent polls showing most people who attend rallies are not interested in being addressed by politicos and opposition party leaders; instead, they want to hear public figures and social activists like TV anchor Leonid Parfenov and blogger Aleksey Navalny.
Russia’s ex-finance minister Aleksey Kudrin called for broader political reform than that outlined by Medvedev. Despite being booed by the crowd as he made the appeal, Kudrin managed to finish his speech in which he called for the resignation of the head of the Central Election Commission and early parliamentary elections a year from now.
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was also booed as he delivered his speech. Apparently the demonstrators had not forgotten Nemtsov calling them “hamsters” and “penguins” in phone conversations with his colleagues which were taped and leaked to the media.
Among other orators who got their share of public disfavor was a prominent opposition figure Gary Kasparov, State Duma Deputy Ilya Ponomarev, and Parnas party co-chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov.
A different greeting awaited popular blogger, lawyer and activist Aleksey Navalny, who spent 15 days in prison after his arrest at an unauthorized rally on December 5, the day after the disputed parliamentary elections. Navalny said that although there was enough support on the streets to go and “take power” right away, demonstrators had no plans to do so since they were “peaceful protesters” who preferred to wait for a legal transfer of power next year, via elections. “We will be taking to the streets until they give what belongs to us back,” Navalny declared. “Next time we will bring a million-strong crowd to the streets of Moscow!”
The billionaire presidential hopeful Mikhail Prokhorov attended the rally but did not speak from the podium. He left the demonstration early saying only that he agrees the elections were fraudulent and pledging that if elected president he would dissolve the current Duma and call fresh parliamentary elections. He also called on candidates running for Russia’s top office to come together and decide on a viable person to chair the Central Electoral Commission. Prokhorov declared his intention to run for president almost two weeks ago.
Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia’s prime minister from 2000-2004, called for the presidential elections to be put off until the end of April 2012, saying the extra two months would allow time for amendments to the election legislation and enable Russia to have “fair elections now, and not six years later.” He also called for fresh parliamentary elections next December.
Among the tens of thousands of people who have come to Central Moscow were a contingent from Russia’s far-right nationalist movements. The organizers feared nationalists could initiate clashes within the crowd. However, the movement turned up peacefully.
Moscow’s previous rally, held on December 10, was also noted for its peaceful organization by everyone from protesters to law enforcement officers. Shortly after it, President Medvedev outlined wide-ranging reforms in the country aimed at liberalizing its political system and strengthening its democratic apparatus.
During his State of the Nation address to parliament he suggested lowering barriers for registering new political parties and for candidates in presidential elections; bringing back direct elections for regional governors, and moving to decentralize power in Russia, among a raft of other reforms. An amendment to the law on political parties has already been submitted to the Duma.
In order to address allegations of election rigging, police are investigating 53 cases of suspected violations. The Central Election Commission has ruled void ballot results from 31 polling stations. However the authorities say the scale of violations was too small to affect the overall outcome of the parliamentary poll.
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