Russian voters delivered an unexpected blow to longtime leader Vladimir Putin on Sunday, slashing his United Russia party's majority in parliament. Putin is hoping to win the presidency for a third time next year, but with his party claiming just under 50 percent of the vote for the State Duma, down from 67 percent in 2007, his political strength may be waning. Putin was even booed at a mixed martial arts event last month, a once unthinkable embarrassment. Are Russians finally tiring of their aspiring president-for-life?
Yes. Voters are fed up: There's no mystery here, says Ben Johnson at Slate. Russians are souring in their "opinion about Putin's dominance in Russian politics and policy." They're sick of seeing photos of their shirtless leader "randomly discovering ancient treasures during scuba trips" and just generally pretending to be superhuman. Ordinary people are increasingly convinced that Putin and his party are out of touch with reality.
"In Russian elections, Putin's party takes a hit"
Even weakened, Putin is still in control: This vote was far from fatal for Putin, say Timothy Heritage and Ralph Boulton at Reuters. Yes, Sunday's balloting was a "heavy blow" that "could dent the authority of the man who has ruled for almost 12 years with a mixture of hardline security policies, political acumen, and showmanship." But let's face it: Putin still calls the shots in Russia, and he's "likely to win a presidential election in March."
"Russia's Putin and party suffer election blow"
But Putin's next term will be bumpy: Things would have been even worse for Putin if much of Russia's political system wasn't "rigged," says Gideon Rachman at Britain's Financial Times. Putin benefitted from fawning media coverage and rumored ballot-stuffing. But it's encouraging that Russia's democracy, whatever its flaws, "is robust enough to have delivered a genuine slap-in-the-face" to the muscular Putin. "Combined with the famous booing incident," this suggests Putin's next term will "be rather less smooth than his previous periods in office."
"A slap in the face for United Russia"