Russian officials have used a variety of deceitful tactics to win a major victory in parliamentary elections later this week. Here’s how they do it.
MOSCOW – Russia stages local and national elections like clockwork according to its post-Soviet constitution, but the results are almost always the same: President Vladimir V. A sweeping victory for Putin and the politicians and parties loyal to him.
In parliamentary elections that begin on Friday and run until Sunday, there is no question that his governing United Russia party will win. For the Kremlin, which hopes to garner support for government policies and strengthen its legitimacy, the trick is to win easily while keeping the prospect of a competitive outcome.
Here are several ways the Kremlin tries to create the illusion of democratic choice, while ensuring that it comes out on top.
Voters will choose from among the candidates There are three people in the Saint Petersburg district named Boris Vishnevsky, of whom only one is a real opposition politician.
Registering multiple candidates with the same or similar names as opposition candidates is a tried-and-true Russian electoral strategy. Of the 225 single-district races in this week’s election, 24 registered candidates with the same or similar name — about 10 percent of all races, spaper Kommersant. informed of.
Russia by no means has a monopoly on this trick: it was used in the 2020 Florida State Senate race – successfully, at least until the scandal was uncovered.
In the case of many Boris Vishnevskys, the couple also assumed the appearance of the real opposition candidate, with the same salt-and-pepper beard, thin hair and plain, button-down shirt.
“This is political manipulation,” the real Mr. Vishnevsky, a career politician and member of the Yabloko political party, said in a telephone interview. He added that others had legally changed their names this year and possibly mimicked their appearance with makeup or digitally altered photographs.
fake political party
Unlike other authoritarian countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, Russia has a multi-party political system that prevailed by the time Mr. Putin came to power in 1999.
To deal with this, the Kremlin has struck two strategies: fake political parties and a number of semi-independent parties it calls “systemic opposition”.
A year ago opposition leader Alexei A. After Navalny was poisoned in an assassination attempt, a party emerged that aimed to appeal to the disgruntled young professionals who form the basis of his support. The party, the New People, copies many of his anti-corruption messages but supports the continuation of Mr. Putin’s rule.
The parties that create systemic protests tend to be more established and enduring than external counterfeits. This group, called “managed democracies” in the mid-2000s, includes the Communist Party and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party. They explicitly participate in elections as opposition groups, but once elected they vote in step with the United Russia party, creating a rubber-stamp parliament.
Until last year, these parties coexisted with the “non-systemic” opposition, led by Mr Navalny, and called for Mr Putin to be removed from power. But over the past year, in anticipation of the upcoming elections, the government has cracked down on legitimate opposition, sending most of its leaders, including Mr. Navalani, to prison or exile.
crossing of names
If more subtle methods aren’t enough, there’s a blunt means of weeding candidates out of the ballot.
This summer, officials Withheld the vast majority of candidates — 163 out of 174 — who applied to parliament as independents. He accused them of things like holding foreign bank accounts or forging signatures to sign ballot papers.
Laws allowing such abusive practices have expanded over the years, beginning with Mr Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 after a four-year hiatus as prime minister.
A law allowing non-governmental groups to be designated as “acting foreign agents” was passed in 2012 and then expanded in 2017 to cover news media organizations. Its application this summer led to the closure of independent news outlets such as Meduza, Proyect and Dosed Television. A 2015 amendment to the law allowed groups to be designated “undesirable organizations” with additional restrictions.
This year, Mr Putin expanded Russia’s strict anti-insurgency law, previously implemented as anti-terrorism measures, to apply to opposition political figures in Mr Navalny’s organization.
After a once widespread practice in the United States to buy voters’ loyalty by offering “walk-in money”, the Russian government usually paid soldiers, public sector workers, and retirees a lump sum payment a few weeks before the election. provides.
This year, members of the security services received 15,000 rubles, about $ 205, and parents of retirees and schoolchildren 10,000 rubles. NS Chain NS presidential order Behind them, signed in July and August, the specified payment in September – on the eve of the vote.
The payment has been glorified in a pro-government campaign ad. An advertisement, narrated by a soldier’s girlfriend, says that, “After our President signed a decree on lump sum payments to soldiers, cadets and police officers, I feel confident about my future.”
Russia allows online voting, and many companies have arranged for employees to vote on computers installed by human resources departments.
Critics say it potentially scares voters by telling their bosses about their choices.
This summer, officials banned nearly four dozen websites affiliated with Mr. Navalny’s movement that were promoting his voting guide for the election. The strategy, which he calls smart voting, essentially involves pairing opposition voters with the strongest anti-Kremin candidate in each race.
Subtle perspectives have also emerged. Most recently, what critics call an attempt to thwart Russians’ ability to find Mr. Navalny’s voting guide via Internet searches, a southern Russian company that sold wool to “Smart Voting” registered as a commercial trademark. Is.
It then sued Google and Yandex, a Russian search engine, alleging that they infringed on its trademark rights and demanded that they block sites showing Mr. Navalny’s voting guides. A Russian court immediately ruled in favor of the company.
Yandex has complied, but Google hasn’t.
A high-stakes cat-and-mouse game has broken out as the “non-systemic” opposition tries to reverse the government’s strategy.
Opposition candidates who are in prison or banned from attending public events by court decisions have appeared instead Life size cardboard cutouts. A prisoner candidate, Andrei Pivovarov, has walked into his campaign office in the southern city of Krasnodar, completely in the form of a cardboard cutout.
Mr Navalny’s group has said it expects its “smart voting” strategy to win a seat in parliament for at least one opposition politician, and possibly as many as 20.
Since 2016, no member of the “non-systemic” opposition has served in the 450-member body.
Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.