Kagarlitsky: No Need to Falsify Elections

Boris Kagarlitsky, a prominent left-wing activist, and director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, published a fascinating article in the October 25th edition of the Moscow Times. He writes that the Kremlin and United Russia no longer have a need to falsify elections, as the current electoral laws all but guarantee an overwhelming victory for the party in power. While we don’t necessarily agree, especially with the plain evidence that the Kremlin is keeping out electoral monitors (read our coverage, and the article in today’s New York Times), the piece reveals much about the state of elections in Putin’s Russia.

Kagarlitsky writes:

I believe that officials will not tamper with the votes – not because they are so honest at heart, but because they probably won’t have the opportunity or even the need to do so.

According to an electronic vote-monitoring system called Fairgame, the elections results in 2003 were tweaked to benefit United Russia. If this is true, then the scheme … was nothing short of genius. This is the way the scheme worked: If a tiny party garnered, say, 0.9 percent of the vote, it was officially granted 0.5 percent. The difference, a negligible and virtually unnoticeable number, was added to United Russia’s tally. Since there were a lot of these small parties, United Russia was able to scrap together up to 7 percent more votes. This strengthened the party’s position, but it did not radically change the overall picture. This arrangement may explain why, after many viable parties were barred from the 2007 elections for not meeting the strict threshold of 50,000 members, a few marginal groups were nevertheless allowed to run, despite claiming memberships in the hundreds at best.

But the political landscape has changed so much since 2003 that such manipulations are no longer necessary. With President Vladimir Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s federal ticket, the results of the upcoming elections are now a foregone conclusion. Moreover, many voters who are dissatisfied with the current leadership will not participate in the elections because they understand that they are meaningless. Thus, padding United Russia’s figures doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the party will do well in the elections anyway. What’s more, since the new law does not require that a minimum number of votes be cast, there is also no need to overstate the voter turnout.

At issue is not how well the party of power will fare, but if any other party will manage to clear the 7 percent hurdle needed to win Duma seats. For Russia to preserve even a semblance of democracy, it is important to have some opposition parties in the Duma. Happily, there is a solution: The conservative electorate supporting the Communist Party promises to turn out in adequate numbers to ensure that its candidates win their coveted Duma seats.

In the end, since Russia now has a de facto one-party system, it is not necessary at all to falsify election results.