Garry Kasparov: We Must Boycott the Elections

Garry Kasparov. Source: Sobkor.ruNow that the Russian opposition’s newest major political party – Parnas – has been officially denied the opportunity to present itself as an option to Russia voters, opposition activists are left dwelling over possible plans of action for upcoming State Duma elections in October and the presidential election in March. In this editorial, Solidarity co-leader and United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov offers his analysis of the opposition’s options and makes his case for a full-on boycott of the Russian electoral process.

Don’t Register the Government!
By Garry Kasparov
July 7, 2011

The refusal to register Parnas, which was inevitable after Mikhail Prokhorov’s emergence onto the political arena, concluded the attempts of the nonsystemic opposition to act within the bounds of the sanctioned political process. In principle, nothing unexpected happened – one cannot presume a rise in the number of registered parties in the midst of a consistent purge of the political landscape.

Given these conditions, the nonsystemic opposition must define its attitude towards the upcoming electoral farce. However, before proposing any plan of action, it is necessary to at least imagine the contours of the development of events in our country. I would like to find out: what sensible people are there who continue to believe that this government can change as the result of elections? A negative response to this question is largely what defines the opposition’s strategic plan of action – not to try and attain short-term tactical advantages within the bounds of the scenario dictated by the government, but to take a course to consistently delegitimize the government in the eyes of Russian citizens.

There are four possible plans of action: 1) a boycott, which is to say a refusal to participate in any sort of official “electoral” activities; 2) to remove our ballots from voting stations; 3) to ruin our ballots by crossing out each option, writing in different parties or using the ballot to express our opinion about the current government; or 4) to vote for any party besides United Russia. Particularly striking is the second option, which many people consider to be a modification of the third, so as to demonstrate a concrete level of participation and non-participation in the electoral process.

The political council of the opposition movement Solidarity has proposed two slogans for the parliamentary and presidential campaigns – “I won’t take part in a farce” and “put an end to the thieving government” – and ruled that the fourth option was unacceptable. It is from there that we will begin to analyze the possible options from the point of view of the opposition’s strategic plans, instead of attempting to simply react to the government’s actions in one way or another.

We cannot deny that people who continue to insist on the fourth option have certain logic. If it were to be successfully carried out, the weakening of United Russia theoretically could lead to the weakening of Putin and to a schism within the elite. But this type of scenario would presume at least some degree of oppositionist mentality within the political parties registered by the Kremlin. The recent events in St. Petersburg have once again demonstrated the extent of this ostentatious opposition.

In order to push Matvienko into the post of Federation Council Speaker, a municipal election has to be held, during which, as is perfectly obvious, the opposition has every chance to flood the unpopular mayor. But it is precisely at such moments that the systemic opposition is forced to work out their own Kremlin registrations.

Following the Communists, who found the positive side of the political biography of former Komsomol beauty Matvienko, former Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov also chose not to attempt to damage the reputation of his supposed main political rival. This political robot, reprogrammed with an oppositionist mentality, is constantly malfunctioning due to the signal that remains in his unformatted brain of allegiance to his creator. And now, submitting to the control switch, Mironov mechanically repeats the words about how desirable Matvienko’s departure from Petersburg is even at the cost of her appointment as speaker of the Federation Council.

So do the proponents of voting against United Russia really believe that this opposition with Zyuganov and Mironov – let’s try not to remember Zhirinovsky – is capable of changing the situation in the country? But then again, it’s clear that the call to cast your vote to any party besides United Russia by politicians from the liberal flank is nothing more than a call to vote for Right Cause. It is obvious that precisely Prokhorov and Right Cause will be the main beneficiaries of this sort of algorithm of action by the opposition, since the shrunken Yabloko, which has de-facto disappeared from the country’s political landscape, cannot present them with serious competition (nobody should be misled by Yabloko’s convincing victory in a recent Ekho Moskvy radio poll).

Unlimited material resources, plus the favor of the Kremlin that opens the doors to every television channel, guarantees Right Cause with the opportunity to present information about itself to practically every voter. And regardless of the glaring inadequacies of Prokhorov’s candidacy, which will undoubtedly be used by United Russia’s campaign, precisely this party has every chance to become the main force behind the protest voting movement. The results of such “elections” will be the creation of a new liberal model intended to negate the negative effect of the establishment of the Putin dictatorship, which is not at all constrained by excessive formalities.

In the public conscience, the other three options are seen just as much to be a refusal to take part in electoral procedures. That said, the second and third options are labeled as active forms of protest.

The third option is technically simple to carry out, since the actions of a person ruining a ballot are not visually different than those of one who is checking off boxes in a disciplined manner. Nevertheless, this option still indicates one’s concrete participation in voting. Ideally, ballots dropped in the ballot box would of course be counted in the presence of observers. But don’t think anyone harbors any illusions about the possibility of setting up any real observation of the vote count in any significant amount of polling stations. Therefore, the percentage of spoiled ballots is going to remain within the boundaries defined by the Kremlin’s manipulators.

The second option, as well as a modification of it proposed by Eduard Limonov – to officially demand to be stricken from the list of voters – has in mind a need for the manifestation of civic courage. Even if activists from oppositionist organizations have no problem removing their ballots from voting stations (and even burning them afterwards), such actions are hard to realize for many ordinary citizens, especially in small towns and rural areas. And residents of large cities could lose their decisiveness to take their ballots with them if faced with resistance from police or plain-clothes cops stationed to control the actions of voters. Is there really any doubt that the government will use all possible methods of psychological pressure to the fullest extent possible against the average voter if the opposition chose the second option?

Most representatives of the nonsystemic opposition call the first option a priori meaningless since, by today’s official rules, voter turnout does not affect whether or not an election is valid. However, it is entirely unclear why the government, which jealously follows even the slightest changes in the rating of public trust in the tandem and in their “Party of Crooks and Thieves,” would react so emotionlessly to a sharp drop in turnout on voting day. Of course, this would not lead to any immediate changes in the country, and moreover, Churov’s agency would carry out a timely, massive ballot stuffing in whatever amount necessary. But the primary indicator of the success or failure of the actions of the nonsystemic opposition should be not the fictional results announced by the Central Electoral Committee, but the real number of people who refuse to support the occupying regime.

The government has fully excluded the possibility for an alternative to appear within the bounds of the normal political process. The opposition must create a contrast using new technological possibilities and attract a significant number of followers to its ranks. This task will not be resolved by mobilizing all resources in the one day designated by the government as voting day. It is laborious work that requires changes within the very algorithm of the opposition’s activities, in restructuring its system of thought, and in its readiness to develop an acting alternative on every level of government, from federal to municipal. And the first step on this path should be a boycott of the “voting” procedures held out by an illegitimate government.