Russians Voting in a Parliamentary Election Described as ‘Dullest’ Ever


Posted on: September 18th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) —  Russians are taking part in parliamentary elections across the country in a vote that is expected to cement President Vladimir Putin’s authority and test a cautious experiment by the Kremlin to conduct a popular vote without widespread rigging.

There is little uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the vote for Russia’s 450 seat parliament: Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, is expected to win by a solid margin. Exit polls on Sunday evening showed the party winning at least 44.5 percent of the vote. With the country heavily behind Putin — whose approval ratings stand around 80 percent — and the opposition effectively sidelined, the vote was being described by some observers as the “dullest” election in Russian history.

That is in stark contrast to the last time Russians voted for their parliament in 2011, when significant vote-rigging prompted huge street protests. Tens of thousands marched in Moscow demanding Putin’s resignation in what was the biggest popular challenge to his rule that the Russian leader has faced.

There seems almost no chance that such a situation will be repeated this year.

Eager to avoid renewed upheavals, this time the Kremlin has sought to create an impression that the vote will be clean. It removed the head of Russia’s elections commission — pejoratively nicknamed the “wizard” for his ability to make the numbers add up in Putin’s favor, and replacing him with a respected human rights defender. Authorities have also opened up a small breathing space for the country’s beleaguered opposition, allowing them to field more candidates and to take part in TV debates.

Those moves led many to predict today’s vote would not see significant amounts of voting fraud. However, as the day wore on across Russia’s 11 time zones, there were growing reports of cheating, with videos appearing to show ballot-stuffing.

An independent elections monitor, Golos, reported that by late afternoon it had received more 1,300 complaints of fraud. The new head of Russia’s elections commission has promised to annul results if fraud is proven.

Although the vote may prove to be cleaner than in the past, critics say it will not be fairer. Under Putin, the Kremlin has largely neutered Russia’s political debates, creating a pseudo-opposition and marginalizing actual opponents by jailing or blocking them from running, largely barring them from television, and harassing their campaigns.

The parliament itself has become a rubber-stamping body, directed on how to act on most issues by the Kremlin. The country’s two largest nominally-opposition parties, the Communist Party and the far right Liberal Democratic Party, in reality almost always back the Kremlin in their votes. Before today the unauthorized opposition, the so-called “nonsystem opposition”, had only one lawmaker in the parliament, and its leaders and activists have been continuously harassed and occasionally physically attacked.

This year, though, as part of the experiment to lend greater legitimacy to the elections, anti-Putin parties were given more leeway. That step, however, seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s confidence in its position rather than any newfound political liberalism. With nationalist feeling running high in Russia following the annexation of Crimea and increased repression of dissent, there is virtually no desire for major political change. Before the vote, Yabloko and Parnas, two parties running on anti-Putin platforms, were polling at less than 2 percent, according to the independent pollster, the Levada Center.

Against this background, rather than rigging, authorities appeared to be banking on boredom to produce an untroubled result.

Many Russians say they can’t remember a more lackluster election run. Even the Kremlin official tasked with managing the vote, Vladimir Volodin, has described United Russia’s campaign as “sterile”, telling the business paper RBC that he believed the tactic was not to produce enthusiasm for the party but just to bring off a technically irreproachable campaign.

It appears to have had an effect, with voters’ apathy reflected in what looked to be a low turnout. Today in Moscow, it seemed participation could be significantly lower than in previous votes, with the city’s election commission reporting 19.1 percent turnout as of 3 p.m. local time, compared with 33.9 percent turnout in 2011. In the days prior to voting, a startling number of Russians were not even aware the elections were happening.

Russians’ coolness towards the election appears to have also hit United Russia, which had appeared threatened with a poor showing. Putin’s sky-high approval ratings do not rub off as well onto the party, with many Russians irritated with it over the country’s current economic crisis and what they consider endemic corruption in its ranks. A recent poll by the independent Levada Center showed the party’s approval rating had fallen from 45 percent to 39 percent in three months.

At polling stations in Moscow, many voters said they expected the vote to be cleaner than in previous years, though few expected it would be totally without fraud. Many, even those voting for the ruling party, were ambivalent about whether the vote showed Russia had democracy. Asked whether he felt Russia was democratic, one man pulled face and made a half-and-half gesture with his hand.

“Does Russia have democracy?,” Vyacheslav Aleksandrovich, 63, said before voting, wrinkling his face as though he had never considered it before. “Maybe. Probably we have some kind of democracy. I don’t know, I haven’t seen any other kind.”

Others were more definite, saying that although they did not believe they had full-fledged democracy, it was important to vote to keep what elements of it still exist in Russia.

“At the very least, it opposes the trend of authoritarianism that has appeared in Russia recently,” Lev Karakhan, a television producer accompanied by his children said after voting.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.



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Russians Voting in a Parliamentary Election Described as ‘Dullest’ Ever


Posted on: September 18th, 2016 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) —  Russians are taking part in parliamentary elections across the country in a vote that is expected to cement President Vladimir Putin’s authority and test a cautious experiment by the Kremlin to conduct a popular vote without widespread rigging.

There is little uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the vote for Russia’s 450 seat parliament: Putin’s ruling party, United Russia, is expected to win by a solid margin. Exit polls on Sunday evening showed the party winning at least 44.5 percent of the vote. With the country heavily behind Putin — whose approval ratings stand around 80 percent — and the opposition effectively sidelined, the vote was being described by some observers as the “dullest” election in Russian history.

That is in stark contrast to the last time Russians voted for their parliament in 2011, when significant vote-rigging prompted huge street protests. Tens of thousands marched in Moscow demanding Putin’s resignation in what was the biggest popular challenge to his rule that the Russian leader has faced.

There seems almost no chance that such a situation will be repeated this year.

Eager to avoid renewed upheavals, this time the Kremlin has sought to create an impression that the vote will be clean. It removed the head of Russia’s elections commission — pejoratively nicknamed the “wizard” for his ability to make the numbers add up in Putin’s favor, and replacing him with a respected human rights defender. Authorities have also opened up a small breathing space for the country’s beleaguered opposition, allowing them to field more candidates and to take part in TV debates.

Those moves led many to predict today’s vote would not see significant amounts of voting fraud. However, as the day wore on across Russia’s 11 time zones, there were growing reports of cheating, with videos appearing to show ballot-stuffing.

An independent elections monitor, Golos, reported that by late afternoon it had received more 1,300 complaints of fraud. The new head of Russia’s elections commission has promised to annul results if fraud is proven.

Although the vote may prove to be cleaner than in the past, critics say it will not be fairer. Under Putin, the Kremlin has largely neutered Russia’s political debates, creating a pseudo-opposition and marginalizing actual opponents by jailing or blocking them from running, largely barring them from television, and harassing their campaigns.

The parliament itself has become a rubber-stamping body, directed on how to act on most issues by the Kremlin. The country’s two largest nominally-opposition parties, the Communist Party and the far right Liberal Democratic Party, in reality almost always back the Kremlin in their votes. Before today the unauthorized opposition, the so-called “nonsystem opposition”, had only one lawmaker in the parliament, and its leaders and activists have been continuously harassed and occasionally physically attacked.

This year, though, as part of the experiment to lend greater legitimacy to the elections, anti-Putin parties were given more leeway. That step, however, seemed to reflect the Kremlin’s confidence in its position rather than any newfound political liberalism. With nationalist feeling running high in Russia following the annexation of Crimea and increased repression of dissent, there is virtually no desire for major political change. Before the vote, Yabloko and Parnas, two parties running on anti-Putin platforms, were polling at less than 2 percent, according to the independent pollster, the Levada Center.

Against this background, rather than rigging, authorities appeared to be banking on boredom to produce an untroubled result.

Many Russians say they can’t remember a more lackluster election run. Even the Kremlin official tasked with managing the vote, Vladimir Volodin, has described United Russia’s campaign as “sterile”, telling the business paper RBC that he believed the tactic was not to produce enthusiasm for the party but just to bring off a technically irreproachable campaign.

It appears to have had an effect, with voters’ apathy reflected in what looked to be a low turnout. Today in Moscow, it seemed participation could be significantly lower than in previous votes, with the city’s election commission reporting 19.1 percent turnout as of 3 p.m. local time, compared with 33.9 percent turnout in 2011. In the days prior to voting, a startling number of Russians were not even aware the elections were happening.

Russians’ coolness towards the election appears to have also hit United Russia, which had appeared threatened with a poor showing. Putin’s sky-high approval ratings do not rub off as well onto the party, with many Russians irritated with it over the country’s current economic crisis and what they consider endemic corruption in its ranks. A recent poll by the independent Levada Center showed the party’s approval rating had fallen from 45 percent to 39 percent in three months.

At polling stations in Moscow, many voters said they expected the vote to be cleaner than in previous years, though few expected it would be totally without fraud. Many, even those voting for the ruling party, were ambivalent about whether the vote showed Russia had democracy. Asked whether he felt Russia was democratic, one man pulled face and made a half-and-half gesture with his hand.

“Does Russia have democracy?,” Vyacheslav Aleksandrovich, 63, said before voting, wrinkling his face as though he had never considered it before. “Maybe. Probably we have some kind of democracy. I don’t know, I haven’t seen any other kind.”

Others were more definite, saying that although they did not believe they had full-fledged democracy, it was important to vote to keep what elements of it still exist in Russia.

“At the very least, it opposes the trend of authoritarianism that has appeared in Russia recently,” Lev Karakhan, a television producer accompanied by his children said after voting.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.



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You must be logged in to post a comment.