Nearly all 64 MPs from the A Just Russia opposition party walked out of parliament during a question-and-answer session with President-elect Vladimir Putin on April 11. This is the first time that Mr. Putin has had a whole party walk out while he was speaking. The walk-out was prompted when, in response to one of the opposition party’s questions, Mr. Putin responded “As far as I know, your colleague Oleg Shein has started a hunger strike but did not appeal to court. This is a bit strange. Why go on a hunger strike? … It seems to me that they have to go to court.” His comments referred to the hunger strike alleged to be initiated by Oleg Shein, the A Just Russia’s mayoral candidate in the city of Astrakhan. Mr. Shein, supported by Russian activists, alleges that electoral fraud influenced the outcome of the election. A Just Russia “argues that the Astrakhan courts cannot be trusted to investigate the electoral fraud allegations fairly.” Further complicating this situation is that the mayoral elections were held on the same day as the presidential election, where Mr. Putin was elected for a third presidential term, also amid allegations of widespread fraud. These allegations are supported by both Russian and international independent election monitors.
Electoral influence and fraud cannot be tolerated in any form. Mr. Shein is in a difficult position – a candidate in need of the Courts to investigate the outcome of the election, but potentially subject to a court system that may or may not be corrupted itself. This is certainly a catch-22. (As a side comment, a hunger strike does seem to be an ineffective form of protest since he is only hurting himself.) Nevertheless, in my opinion, a full scale walk-out by the supporting party undermines the strength of their argument. If people are truly interested in improving political process, it seems to me the first step is how you handle the controversy. Walking out seems to be avoiding the problem.
See Russian opposition MPs snub Putin with walkout, BBC News Europe (April 11, 2012), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17674878