Loss of face for Putin as support for party falls

Vladimir Putin casts his vote in the parliamentary elections
Image caption Vladimir Putin, 59, has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade

Vladimir Putin is facing a slump in popularity that he has not experienced since the Kursk submarine disaster of 2000.

There are still many in Russia who do not blame him for the rampant corruption and the stagnant economy.

But he is the leader of United Russia, and support for the party has fallen significantly in these Duma elections, which inevitably reflects badly on him.

That said, it looks like the official results will still show United Russia gaining support from around half of those who cast valid votes, which would be regarded as a significant victory in many democracies.

What is more, even if United Russia do not get half of the seats in the Duma, they will still be able to rely on some support from Kremlin-friendly opposition parties like the LDPR and A Just Russia.

Already President Dmitry Medvedev is talking about a coalition.

Pointing a finger

But it is not the loss of seats in the Duma that will damage Vladimir Putin most, it is the loss of face.

First he was booed at a Mixed Martial Arts fight, now some of the electorate have shown their growing frustration by dumping United Russia. This, remember, is a man who has relied on his image as a tough, popular leader.

Some of the loss of support can be put down to the usual woes of leaders who have been in power for a long time, and to the global economic slump.

But there is also the issue of trust.

A key moment came when Vladimir Putin announced in September that he was returning to the presidency.

Suddenly people started thinking about whether or not they wanted another six or even 12 years of Putinism.

Some started complaining that they had been duped by the one-term Medvedev Presidency, which suddenly looked like a convenient way of keeping Mr Putin in power.

When Mr Putin said they had arranged his return to the top job a long time ago, some people felt they had been conned. Even some senior members of the government genuinely believed Mr Medvedev might stay on as president.

At his first press conference after the results started coming in Vladimir Putin appeared subdued.

He said that United Russia had to accept some of the responsibility for the woes of the country, but he must know that some people are starting to blame him.

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