The Major Players
For this round of elections, seven different parties made the ballot. Only four won seats in the assembly: in order of seats won they were United Russia, the Communist Party, A Just Russia, and the Liberal Democrats.
United Russia is the party of current president Medvedev, acting president Putin, and the entrenched oligarchy that supports them. Despite the seven-way election they brought in a full 50% of the popular vote, which was considered by all metrics a major defeat, given that they essentially run the country. Putin had been hand-picked as a successor to Yeltsin; Medvedev as a facade for Putin to continue running the country after he reached the limit of consecutive terms. For various reasons, not all of them bad, Putin remains enormously popular with a broad spectrum of Russian voters.
However the three remaining parties to win seats, making up a loosely (and not always happily) defined 'left bloc', all expanded their seats significantly, although not enough to take a majority in the State Duma. The gains made by the Communist party are disconcerting given this particular party's leadership and record, although we can take small comfort in knowing that they represent the most directly anti-regime party, so some of their gains might be protest votes. Keep in mind, though, that the strength of the Communist party as a second-place finisher will continue to discourage the United States from jumping too strongly into the anti-Putin camp.
As for the rest? A Just Russia are the only social democrats in the game (or not: see below); the Liberal Democratic Party, who once
controlled held plurality stake in the government, continue under the inept leadership of racist old Zhirinovsky. A more Western-oriented group of social democrats like the Yabloko party haven't been able to field a winning candidate since 2007.
Abnormalities, Issues, Protests
Here in the U.S. we maintain a high level of diligence when it comes to elections: whether we believe they are run fairly and honestly, we analyze and debate every possible anomaly and take these anomalies to court. That doesn't mean we always win against corruption, but that we fight to make sure every eligible voter can vote, every vote counts, and every vote counts only once.
Russia is a different ballgame. Election-day corruption is not exactly unexpected there (as with many things Russian, there's a shrug and a sense of 'This is how we do things' when many of these issues come up), but the sheer level of it and the increased availability of social media for people to lash out against it has led the country to the boiling point.
As of now, the main election watchdog group (Golos, or 'voice') has received something on the order of two thousand complaints about voting irregularities, with well over a thousand reported to the police. These include not only anecdotes, but actual videos. Oh, and in a coincidence that will surprise no one, the head of that watchdog group was arrested two days before the election. You can't make this stuff up.
Is it really that bad? Well, I can speak personally to this issue: in the last round of presidential elections, colleagues of mine were shut out of their workplace because the university had taken grant money to help improve election-day transparency and monitoring. Yes, they shut down an entire university for two months (including the election, natch) on the pretense of fire code violations for the sin of threatening to keep the elections fair and open.
But this is the age of social media, and things may be changing. (See for example the article cited by Lefty Coaster in this diary yesterday.)
Where to go for updates
For the bare-bones news, RIA Novosti's English page is doing a reasonably good job of keeping Western readers up-to-date. Given the difficulties with fair and honest media in a country where journalists feel threatened to do their job, even a bare-bones account is valuable for setting up the context.
If you want to keep by-the-minute tabs on the protests and their fallout, Global Voices Online has been collecting and translating citizen media (Livejournal, Twitter, etc.) as well as the latest news from around the Russian internet as part of their RuNet Echo series. As with everything citizen media, remember that there's a certain level of caveat lector in place, especially when you're dealing with events twice removed and translated. Just because someone says something doesn't mean it's factual.
Still, these events bear noting: even though these election results were expected, Russians are getting increasingly fed up with the cycle of open corruption and non-accountability. Protesters are getting arrested and fined, bloggers are getting arrested and fined, and each round is building up more and more anger and resentment.
You'll notice the RuNet account is especially withering toward a group called Nashi, which translates literally as "Ours" (as in, our people, our country... needless to say it's a reactionary pro-government group.) Some of what they say sounds like conspiracy theory: pro-gov activists bused into the city? And yet we have the alleged call to arms that was circulated to members of the group and, get this, video from inside the encampment the government set up to house their own 'protesters'.
Nashi can be a particularly nasty group of customers. Ostensibly an anti-fascist organization, they've been acting as Putin's personal thugs in anti-regime protests for years now (exhibit A). Savvier and more media-friendly than the ultranationalist groups they also oppose, they have the explicit backing of the Kremlin. Expect to see more of them in the next week, and not just chanting "Putin is victory" in the subways.
Anyway, that's a general introduction for anyone who's seeing bits and pieces of this on the news and wondering about the background. I encourage people to check out the links to social media to see how this is playing out live.
It's going to be an interesting week in Russia. I wish everyone there who is protesting to be safe.
Мы с Вами.
9:33 PM PT: from comments by kalmoth below:
Note that the graphs show, among other things, numbers of precincts with a given voter turnout %. This graph HAS to be a Gaussian distribution (single roughly symmetric hump). Very few precincts naturally have 0% or 100% turnouts. In the last russian election, this distribution is bimodal, with the second peak showing at 100% - and precincts with the abnormally high turnout were also the ones that Putin's United Russia won.
We are not talking about some small percentage of vote violations - we are talking about 40% of the total votes attributed to United Russia. In terms of scale, this fraud is as bad as what happened in Iran in 2009.
Compare this to the article cryonaut posted below, "Moscow official: I helped rig Russia vote".
Lots more likely to come out in the next week. Stay tuned...