Two exit polls in Russia have just reported that the ruling United Russia party is going to receive less than 50% of the vote for the Duma. In 2007 at the last Duma elections United Russia had 64% of the vote. This represents a stunning rebuke for the party of power although its rule and control of the Duma is not threatened because in the worst of circumstances it can count on support from one of the "opposition" parties.
The exit polls present a problem for United Russia. If it uses its control of the electoral apparatus to score a total that is higher significantly than the exit polls, it will have confirmed in an embarrassing manner the violations and finagling that marked the election campaign. Opposition websites faced disruption of service attacks and electoral observers were harassed. The Washington Post referred to the campaign is a farce.
The defeat is even more of an embarrassment since the machine kept real opposition parties off the ballot and the Communist Party seems to have benefited the most from the drop in United Russia's popularity.
As outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev who will soon vacate his post to Vladimir Putin's presidency headed the United Russia ticket, it is not certain what this means for his political future. Medvedev put a brave face on the results as did other United Russia bigwigs calling it a mandate to rule and favorably comparing Russia's stability with what was transpiring in Western Europe.
Corruption was a major issue in the campaign as in the recent poll 36% of the respondents identified United Russia as the "party of thieves and swindlers." Party bureaucrats have replaced the robber barons of the 1990s as the prime examples of conspicuous consumption and ill explained wealth.
If in the previous decade real wages increased rapidly, in recent years they have remained stagnant. The regime may have created rising expectations that it could not fulfill. Having appropriated all the levers of power there was no one else to blame.
Finally and it will be necessary to wait for the vote by region to substantiate this, the machinations of the Medvedev-Putin tandem appears to have alienated voters. After confusing even seasoned observers with the liberal cop reactionary cop routine Medvedev's servile surrender of the presidency to Putin alienated the more progressive elements of the coalition and patchwork efforts such as setting up a united front did not repair the damage.