In central St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin’s political home base, only 27 percent was recorded for his party. Such results were balanced by massive rigging elsewhere: In Chechnya, which was devastated by a war launched by Mr. Putin, 99 percent voter participation was reported and 99.5 percent of the votes were tallied for United Russia.But everyone knew that would happen; after all, Putin's people control the electoral commissions, and as Boss Tweed used to say, "as long as I count the votes, what are you gonna do?"
Putin's political system is interesting. There are three kinds of parties: United Russia, "opposition" parties that are really under Putin's thumb and usually vote with him, and the Communists. The Communists -- that's them celebrating in the picture at top -- are the only real opposition party, and one imagines Putin lets them exist because they make it seem that the only alternative to him is a return to the bad old days. According to those official results, the Communists got 20% of the vote, twice as much as last time.
Putin got a lot of real support from Russians for restoring order to a country that seemed to be sliding into chaos, for making Russia once again a serious player in world affairs, and for getting the economy back on tract. Really, though, it was high oil and gas prices that fueled the economy, and now that they have moderated there isn't much else. That isn't entirely Putin's fault, since Russia has a long list of terrible problems -- aging population, rampant alcoholism and drug abuse, ethnic unrest, petty corruption, various environmental disasters left over from Soviet days -- that would probably ruin the best economic plan. But the results of the election showed that he won't be able to hold onto power forever via his soft authoritarian methods. Russian voters are tired of United Russia and want to give someone else a try. Eventually Putin is either going to have to accept losing an election or take off the velvet gloves and seriously crack down on dissent.