Allegations of electoral fraud will erode Putin’s legitimacy | Russia
Russia held its three-day parliamentary elections between September 17 and 19, with the ruling United Russia party winning 324 seats in the 450-seat State Duma. Many observers found the result of the vote messy and confusing and that’s because it was messy and confusing by design.
The election was marred by accusations of deception, manipulation and outright fraud, which the opposition said allowed the Kremlin to declare victory, despite waning public support for United Russia. Indeed, this victory comes at the cost of legitimacy.
Of course, this election was nothing like what are called “elections” in democratic countries. Polls in Russia are hardly “free”, as the real opposition forces are not allowed to register parties; those who are allowed to do so are controlled to varying degrees by the presidential administration.
The leading figure of what observers call “the non-systemic opposition”, Alexey Navalny, has made multiple attempts to register a party since 2012, but has been refused each time. Despite his exclusion from official party politics, he managed to develop and maintain the largest and most effective opposition network in the country, becoming de facto the main political rival of President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny is currently serving a prison sentence after barely surviving poisoning by a nerve agent, blamed on the Russian secret service by open source investigators from the British collective Bellingcat. But this kind of treatment by the Kremlin only reaffirms its status as Putin’s number one enemy.
Navalny’s allies, many of whom were forced to flee the country, devised a voter mobilization strategy with the aim of derailing as many Kremlin candidates in local and national elections as possible. They called it “smart voting”.
On the eve of the election, they released a list of candidates from establishment parties other than United Russia who had the best chance of defeating members of United Russia. The Kremlin responded by attempting to remove circulation from the list by any means possible. This included pressure on global digital giants like Apple, Google and Telegram, who shamefully ceded and removed Navalny’s apps, videos and online documents containing smart voting information.
The outcome of the standoff between the Kremlin and smart voting supporters has been found to be uneven, allowing Team Navalny to claim some success with the warning that their main regional victories have been stolen by levels of fraud election never seen before. Here is how it worked.
Half of the seats in the elections went to party lists and the other half to individual candidates running. United Russia won just under 50% of party list votes, up from 54% in 2016, but it won 88% of single-member constituencies. Thus, he retained a super-majority in the Russian Duma, which allows him to modify the constitution as he pleases. The Communist Party came in second, making huge gains, probably thanks to the pro-Navalny votes.
But the official figures do not match. First, public opinion polls conducted by government polls on the eve of the election suggested that United Russia could only hope for just over 40 percent of the party list votes. The increase of up to 9% in elections is difficult to explain, unless one assumes large-scale fraud. The gap between the polls and the election results was even greater in Moscow, the city most opposed to the opposition, causing locals to wonder where all these supporters of United Russia came from.
The most bizarre results come from the single-member districts of the Russian capital. Candidates backed by Navalny’s smart vote were due to storm Moscow after the ballots were counted, despite the blatant violations reported by election observers. But that was completely overturned by the 1.8 million votes cast through the online voting system, which was first introduced in this year’s national elections and was made available to 16 million people. voters in seven regions of the country, including Moscow.
The political preferences of the capital’s virtual voters turned out to be directly opposed to those of those who preferred to vote the old-fashioned way. They succeeded in flipping the elections in every district, where the Kremlin candidates would otherwise have lost it.
Most scandalously, online voting envisioned a re-vote feature, which 300,000 people chose to use in this election to change their votes. This feature has been blamed for a delay of several hours in the publication of the results of the electronic vote for Moscow. They only started arriving after almost all the ballots had already been counted.
The Kremlin will find it difficult to sell these elections as fair. The idea that tech-savvy e-voting enthusiasts are pro-Putin while the paper generation are in the opposition ranks contradicts everything Russians know about their country. Polls have consistently shown that Russia’s “Internet generation” is the most anti-Putin demographic.
Various researchers, who analyzed the results of the vote, detected statistical anomalies, leading them to consider a significant number of United Russia votes as inauthentic. One of them, Sergey Shpilkin, attributes around 14 million votes cast for United Russia to abnormal spikes in electoral activity, which may suggest ballot stuffing at polling stations or similar manipulations with polling stations. online votes.
In an article published by his allies, Navalny compared the result of the Duma election to a scoreboard during a football match, which shows results completely independent of what is happening on the pitch. This sentiment is certainly shared by many of his compatriots, which will help accelerate the erosion of the regime’s legitimacy.
Putin and Navalny both know they are fighting for a conformist majority whose members find it safer to stick with the crowd when it comes to political choices. Unlike the Soviets of the 20th century, the Russians of today, however, are not bound by any ideology.
Their choices are primarily dictated by their recent experiences, which boil down to a commonly held belief that just about anything can be tolerated in order to prevent war or revolutionary terror. Their herd psychology means that they tend to change direction simultaneously, during a one-off event that’s hard to predict, as happened when the Soviet system collapsed in 1991.
Putin has been their real choice as a guarantor of stability and a relatively good standard of living for two decades, but his star is waning. This election further shattered people’s perception of him as a true majority leader. Of particular concern in this regard is the fact that United Russia falls below 50 percent of the party list vote, according to official results.
Worse than that, the manipulations of electronic voting in Moscow underscore the fact that Putin has lost the Russian capital, which may be a turning point in a country as centralized as Russia. His flock is visibly nervous and begins to look away from the shepherd.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.