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ЕС-Россия » Публикации » Еженедельная колонка » The Russian elections and European values

Георгий Бовт

The Russian elections and European values

03 Ноя 2009 — Георгий Бовт, Независимый журналист
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President Dmitry Medvedev was dressed in black and abstained from smiling in the presence of TV-cameras when he met leaders of four parliamentary parties at his residence. The meeting was at the request of the three opposition parties (Communists, Just Russia and Liberal-Democrats) who were united in their protests at massive falsifications in the October 11 regional elections.

In an unprecedented gesture in modern Russian history, these three parties even organised a temporary boycott of a parliamentary session on October 14, in what appeared to be an unpleasant surprise for the Kremlin, which is used to treating these parties as obedient, political puppets.

During the meeting, President Medvedev sat on one side of the table with the deputy head of his administration Vladislav Surkov (responsible for dealing with political parties) and three top-level leaders of the ruling party “United Russia”, while three leaders of the opposition were sat on the opposite side. For Medvedev this was quite a delicate situation, because it was almost impossible for him to stand up to the United Russia in his role as a higher status objective arbiter. To do so would have been seen as a personal challenge to Vladimir Putin, the leader of the ruling party. On the other hand, it would have been also q difficult for Mr Medvedev to totally ignore the protests of the opposition, who had appealed to him as a guarantor of the Constitution.

First of all, the level of falsification in the October 11 regional elections was unprecedented in modern Russian history. Even in Moscow, where previous electoral manipulations lagged far behind cynical methods practiced in national republics like Chechnya or Baskiria, this time the authorities “closed” the gap and threw away all decorum. Officials did everything in their power to prevent opposition candidates from registering as early on as the signature collection stage. All those candidates who might prove uncomfortable to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, were taken off the ballot lists. As a result, United Russia won 32 out of the 35 seats in the Moscow city Duma (there at least two parties should be represented in order for the Duma to be legitimate, according to the law).

On the eve of the elections and on the day of the vote itself, several methods of falsification were used by the authorities: 1. voting ahead of schedule, “early voting”. Usually such a vote is not covered by independent and opposition observers and this gave the ruling party three to five per cent. 2. Absentee ballot. According to the law, any person who can’t vote on the day of elections at the polling station where he is registered, may complete a special form which removes him from the electoral list in his district of residence, and allows him to vote at any other polling station whenever he wishes. Despite the provision that such a form allows voting only once outside the voter’s place of residence, prepaid activists (they were paid from 55 to 2000 roubles per day during the elections) used them multiple times. This, of course, with the consent and cooperation of electoral officials. Experts say that this method usually adds five to seven per cent illegal votes for the ruling party. 3) The so-called “carousel” system allows busloads of passengers to travel from district to district to cast their votes repeatedly.

Independent or opposition observers, even if they are present and actively try to monitor the process of voting, usually can’t catch t violators in person, because it is quite impossible to check whether all those presenting their passports to members of electoral commissions (to get the ballot forms), then signing the register book as themselves rather than an absent citizen. “The carousel” system usually accounts for another seven to eight per cent of illegal votes for the ruling party. 4) “Throwing in”. This is the most “effective” method. It is used by members of electoral commissions, under the orders of the ruling party, they simply throw dozens and dozens of ballots marked for the ruling party into the ballot boxes just before the closure of polling stations as the level of electoral activity becomes clear. This method gave the United Russia from 20 to 30% of final votes in Moscow alone according to independent experts and observers. 5) “Drawing the results”. The most primitive method, it is practiced in regions with notably authoritarian forms of government (Chechnya, for instance). In such a case there is no need at all to count, to cast, to throw in or to manipulate the ballots, because members of territorial or republican electoral commission simply fill in the final forms with numbers that have been “strongly recommended” by higher officials. Experts say that such a method was widely used this time in Mari El republic, where during the 2004 elections the United Russia got only about 30% of the votes, but now, in the time of economic crisis, they easily gained almost 70%. Officially.

After it turned out that the ruling party no longer id t observes any rules of propriety in collecting more and more votes in its favour during each consecutive election, the opposition rose up, foreseeing that there would be no room in politics for any opposition anymore, or as early as the next federal parliamentary elections of 2011. All three parliamentary opposition parties demanded the resignation of the country’s election chief, Vladimir Churov. The Communists also demanded that Leonid Markelov, governor of the Volga Republic of Mari El, resign over alleged election fraud.

The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party demanded a nationwide recount and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov’s resignation. It also said that the polls in Moscow, Central Russia’s Tula Region and the Republic of Mari El should be declared invalid, and a new vote should be scheduled for March 2010. The Just Russia party leader and speaker of the Federation Council, Sergey Mironov, believes that the current system of electoral legislation does not meet the requirements needed for the development of the Russian political system. Mironov reported that his party had drawn up a set of legislative proposals to this effect. In particular, one of the proposals is to abolish early voting, which “has become pointless since the threshold of voter turnout was abolished”. He is also in favour of consolidating a procedure on a legislative level, whereby lists of citizens who have voted would be published on the websites of regional electoral commissions within three days of the end of elections. This would help each voter to check whether or not anyone else has used his vote.

Imagine that most of these proposals were made effective. This would instantly put an end to the one-party political monopoly of the United Russia – the party headed by Vladimir Putin.
On the other hand, Mr Medvedev made a surprisingly strong claim for leadership several weeks ago in his article “Go, Russia!” arguing that the country could only overcome the devastating recession by breaking the pattern of “endemic corruption.” One can’t deny that “endemic corruption” in Russian economy comes hand in hand with “endemic corruption” in Russian political life, i.e. elections, judicial and administrative systems. How can anyone separate one from another? How could anyone even try to fight the first without curbing the other? How can anyone hope to modernise society while such a corrupt and thus inefficient state apparatus is in place? Any alien observer would ask a – “Is Medvedev serious in his declared intentions on modernisation?”

But there is a very important point. And that is – the silence and passivity of Russian society. Apart from the verbal revolt of the parliamentary opposition there was almost no public or street protest against the fraudulent elections. There was nothing similar to the street revolts in Teheran (after the recent presidential elections), nor anything like the short-lived but energetic protests which sometimes occurred in some post-Soviet states. The Russians keep quiet. They do not care about the state of democracy, either in their own region, or on the federal level. And that is the Russia which it would be senseless to lecture about human rights and instruct on better ways of following electoral proceedings. That is the Russia with which it is too premature to speak about “common European values”. Because, so far only two of those values are shared with Europe. And those are oil and gas.

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