TALLINN - Baltic politicians expressed disappointment in the overwhelming victory of the pro-Vladimir Putin party in Russia's elections, though they said that the outcome had been determined in advance and there was no basis for surprise.
"I am not surprised, and the world is not surprised either. The people of Russia made their choice 's God help them," Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told journalists Dec. 3, the day after the poll.
"From the view of international policy, I can only regret the signs indicating that Russia has taken a step backwards instead of taking a step forward with the help of democratic privileges and principles," he added.
United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party whose list of candidates was headed by Putin, won 64.1 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. The party will control 315 seats in the 450-seat Duma, the lower house of parliament. Together with A Just Russia, which came in fourth, and the Kremlin-friendly Liberal Democrats, who finished third, Putin's successor 's whoever that may be 's is guaranteed a rubber stamp Duma.
Western observers who tracked the pre-election campaign and the vote said the election had not been free and fair. Among the violations were TV coverage favoring United Russia, a lack of competition, abuse of administrative resources and a flawed election law.
Marko Mihkelson, chairman of Estonia's European affairs committee and an expert in Russian affairs, concurred with Adamkus, saying that Putin's sweeping victory could, in the long run, turn into Russia's loss.
"Democratic institutions [in Russia] are only for show and have been put to the service of the authoritarian central power," Mikhelson wrote in his blog. "For this reason alone it is impossible to characterize [the] elections as fair, free and democratic."
What's more, authoritarian regimes throughout history have been inherently unstable, the MP from the right-wing Pro Patria-Res Publica union argued. "Belief in the leader is still strong in Russia, but when serious concerns arise this belief could quickly fade into new chaos."
Lithuania's speaker of parliament, Viktoras Muntianas, said he had expected the United Russia rout. "I believe that the elections took place using political and administrative resources. From what we have seen, the results were virtually decided in advance, so I personally had no doubts regarding the election results," he said.
Irena Siauliene, a Social Democratic MP in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament), said the fact that United Russia refused to have public debates with the opposition was a disgrace for the victorious party.
Conservative MP Rasa Jukneviciene put a curious twist on the election, saying United Russia should have done much better given its vast use of administrative resources.
"I am very astonished over the 'bad' showing of the Putin party. I expected it to win around 80 percent of the votes and sweep everything, considering the propaganda, the pressure, the administrative involvement and the participation of Putin himself. I am highly astonished," Jukneviciene told the Baltic News Service.
Russia's Communist Party came in second with 11.6 percent of votes, while the ultra-national Liberal Democratic Party, led by perennial Baltic critic Vladimir Zhirinovsky, won 8.2 percent of votes. A Just Russia won 7.8 percent, rounding off the four parties that crossed the 7 percent threshold. In previous parliamentary elections six parties usually made it to the legislature since elections had been more open and the threshold only 5 percent.
In Latvia, where some 13,000 Russian citizens cast their ballots, United Russia won 64.9 percent of the vote, very close to the party's nationwide showing. Ten percent voted for the communists, 2 percent for Just Russia and 1.8 percent for Zhirinovsky's party.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet tried to put a bright face on the Dec. 2 ballot. "It is positive that the elections did take place. I hope parliamentary elections will take place in Russia also in the future. As long as they do, the opportunity will always be there that one day they will become free and democratic."