What happened
Exit polls confirmed that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won more than 60 percent of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, giving the Russian president a firm grip on power as he approaches the end of his term next spring. The vote was the first under new election laws critics say marginalize the opposition—which faced a crackdown as election day approached. “They’re raping the democratic system,” said chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov, who was jailed for five days shortly before the vote. (AP via Google)

What the commentators said
Well, that was “predictable,” said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). But “even after years of increasingly centralized authority, the vote Sunday was a throwback” to the days when the Soviets “demonized” anyone who questioned them as “Western lackeys.” This “brassknuckled disregard” for democracy “made a mockery” of Putin’s “insistence that Russia belongs in the club of Western democratic nations.”

This was no free and fair election, that’s for sure, said Tony Karon in Time.com. “But the more telling fact may be that Putin's managed election victory has caused so little public discontent." The fact is that Putin remains an “overwhelmingly popular leader” because he has made Russians “feel good once again about their country,” the way Ronald Reagan did in America.

The question now is what Putin “has in mind” after his second four-year term ends, said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration). Some think he’ll use “the same dirty tricks” to install a weak president—since Russia’s Constitution bars him from running again—and come back to rule as prime minister. Or maybe he’ll simply change the rules so he can run again. “Either ploy would do even more damage to Russia’s battered democracy.”