Russian President Vladimir Putin has bolstered his power base toward the 2018 presidential election as the ruling United Russia party scored an overwhelming victory in a recent election of the State Duma, or the lower house.
It had been predicted that the pro-Kremlin party would suffer a setback as the election was held amid an economic slump because of sanctions that Western countries have imposed on Russia as well as low crude oil prices.
According to the Central Election Commission, United Russia secured a record 343 seats, or over two-thirds of 450 seats in the chamber, which has enabled the ruling party alone to revise the Constitution.
Putin said the United Russia party's victory shows that people are seeking stability although they are struggling against economic hardships. Close attention should be focused on how Putin will reflect the outcome of the election in his government policies.
In the previous 2011 State Duma election, revelations of electoral fraud during voting and vote counting sparked nationwide protests. However, there are no signs of such confusion following the latest election.
The Putin government had carefully prepared for the election to prevent any confusion. While appointing human rights activist Ella Pamfilova as head of the Central Election Commission to demonstrate that the government is prepared to crack down on electoral fraud, the government blocked dissidents from running in the election and suppressed activities by private organizations critical of the government.
As a result of these measures, voter turnout fell to a record low of 47.88 percent. The controlled election which offered few choices helped raise the ratio of votes won by the governing party. Questions should be raised over the legitimacy of the outcome of the election in which minority opinions were suppressed.
Still, there is no denying that the high approval rating for Putin has been reflected in the election outcome. Many members of the Russian public empathize with Putin, who is trying to resist pressure from Western countries and is striving to protect Russia's pride as a superpower. Some analysts point out that Russians have had a sense of crisis over sanctions that the Western countries have imposed on Russia and rallied behind the government.
Russia is supposed to play an important role in the international community and has a heavy responsibility to resolve various international problems. However, Russia has unilaterally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and failed to break the deadlock over the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. It would be intolerable if Russia were to try to divert attention away from those who are calling for settlement of these issues.
Russia is supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the ongoing civil war in Syria and confronting Western countries in an attempt to maintain Moscow's influence on Syria. However, it would be impossible to bring the civil war to an end unless Russia cooperates with Western countries.
Putin must take advantage of solid support from the Russian public to help ensure stability in the international community. He should stop fueling confrontation against the United States and Europe and try to ease global tensions. If Western countries ease their sanctions on Russia, it will lead to improvements in the livelihoods of the Russian people.
President Putin should also try to gain consensus from the Russian public in resolving the territorial dispute with Japan over the Northern Territories. He should fully use his bolstered power base and leadership in an appropriate manner.