- - Thursday, December 1, 2011

MOSCOW Popular support for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling party is falling as voters prepare for Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

“Opposition to Putin is huge, and it’s growing rapidly,” said Moscow-based journalist Alexei Korolyov.

“Every day, there are more and more people asking themselves, ‘Why did I go for this guy 10 years ago?’ And you hear people say this everywhere, not only in Moscow or St. Petersburg.”

State-run polls put support for Mr. Putin and his United Russia party at about 50 percent, but independent surveys suggest the true figure is much lower. Analysts say the party has a low chance of retaining the two-thirds majority it has held since 2007.

The hardening of the public’s attitude about Mr. Putin was on display at a sports event in Moscow in mid-November, when at least one section of the crowd appeared to boo him.

Alexei Navalny, an anti-graft activist and widely read blogger, said the jeers and catcalls signal “the end of an era.” He is a highly influential figure in an increasingly politicized Russian Internet community, and coined United Russia’s popular, unofficial nickname: “the party of swindlers and thieves.”

Dissent has been growing about a number of issues, such as suspected mass corruption by United Russia officials and the prospect of two more terms in the Kremlin for Mr. Putin, who will seek a third presidential election next year after being constitutionally bound to step down as president in 2008.

Opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, has suggested that the sudden spark of opposition to Mr. Putin’s rule represents a “deep historical shift” in the nation’s mindset.

Others agree. “People are fed up with Putin,” senior Yabloko official Galina Mikhaleva told The Washington Times. “State-run TV earlier zombified the people, but the Internet has played a huge role in waking them up.

“When people imagine another 12 years of Putin in power, they begin to feel very bad,” Ms. Mikhaleva added.

But there is little doubt here - even among opposition parties - that United Russia will triumph in Sunday’s elections.

“Everything is decided by the Kremlin, by Putin,” Ms. Mikhaleva said, adding that it is “likely” the polls would be rigged in advance.

“We even had elections under Stalin,” she said with a laugh, a reference to the single-candidate-voting formalities of the Soviet Union.

Yabloko will field candidates on Sunday, but it is unlikely to meet the 7 percent threshold for parliamentary representation. The only opposition parties predicted to gain seats in the new parliament are the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the A Just Russia party.

The Communists are largely seen as the party of the pension-age Soviet generation, but most observers dismiss the LDPR and A Just Russia as Kremlin-backed projects designed as an outlet for protest votes.

Story Continues →