Russian voters are not interested in electoral fraud or campaign violations since they have no way of contesting election results. The efforts of one civil group that spent a year collecting signatures for a petition to have the 2011 State Duma election results declared illegitimate has thus been thwarted. Systemic oppositionists have not been any help, either: members of Yabloko, A Just Russia, and the Communist Party have refused to contest the election results and ignored the 13 thousand signatures collected by the group.
On December 14, the Russian Supreme Court threw out a request by five voters to disband the Central Electoral Commission, which confirms Duma election results. In addition to the signatures, the group of activists submitted 60 pages of evidence that the 2011 elections had been fraudulent. Federal Judge Nikolai Tolcheyev, however, was unconvinced, and rejected the request on the basis that the applicants “are contesting acts that do not affect [their own] rights, freedoms, or legal interests.” The activists disagreed.
The group decided to start the petition almost immediately after the controversial elections. “I was outraged,” said journalist Aleksei Torgashev. “But I didn’t want to just go to a rally and yell ‘Putin, go!’ Something concrete needed to be done.”
Leading activist Mikhail Shneyder of the Solidarity opposition movement introduced the idea to send a petition to the Supreme Court during a December 13, 2011, meeting with members of the first mass rally on Bolotnaya Square.
“We collected signatures by hand during rallies and marches. There was a huge torrent of pages of signatures for new elections after a blank form was published in Novaya Gazeta,” Shneyder told Kasparov.ru.
In six months, the group has managed to collect 13,117 in-person signatures. Several hundred were rejected for having insufficient information. The group chose a paper petition instead of an online one to have the added emphasis of the sheer weight of the paper, as well as to prevent critics from complaining about automated electronic signatures.
The activists planned to submit the petition in conjunction with opposition politicians, but members of Yabloko and A Just Russia almost immediately declined to contest the election results.
“We tried to cooperate with the Communist Party. They told us that the suit was being prepared; they constantly dragged it out. But a few days before the one-year limit to contest election results was up, the Communists refused to submit the complaint, even though we know it was ready. And the Communist Party didn’t even accept the election results,” Shneyder said.
“It turns out that it’s not very hard for the Kremlin to make agreements with our oppositionists. The decision to not submit the application to contest the election results was a political one,” claimed activist Grigory Sheyanov.
To prevent the total loss of a year’s worth of work and to deal “humanely” with those who signed the petition, the group decided to turn in a petition with only their names. It was rejected.
“We didn’t expect a different outcome. Yes, there is a legal stipulation that election results can only be contested by candidates. But that’s absurd. We’ll get a definitive decision from the Supreme Court and go to the Constitutional Court so that we can dispute the constitutionality of this position. Nobody before us has done this,” Sheyanov noted.
The activists who have come together over this case are unsure if their group will stay united after the final court appeals are over. In this sense, they are an analogy for the crisis within the entire protest movement.
“At the end of 2011 we found one vector – to protest unjust elections,” explained Aleksandr Rzhavsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Since then, different events superseded this, and the movement fell apart since there’s nothing to unite around. Even the question of political prisoners clashes with other issues.”
Although they largely expect a disappointing court outcome, the activists do not believe they have spent their time in vain. “We brought attention to the lack of legal defense for voters, we showed just how ‘oppositionist’ certain parties are, and we brought the case through to the end.” And they are convinced that, regardless of what provokes the next wave of protests, the horizontal connections and experience with the petition will add “critical mass” to future projects.