Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s ‘Administrative Measures’ Trickle Down to Local Elections

Paul Goble

Baku, March 11 – The use of what are euphemistically called “administrative measures” by Russian officials – official pressure and outright fraud -- to guarantee that elections in that country yield the results the government wants is rapidly spreading from the national level to the very lowest, the local municipal assemblies.
If the Kremlin’s actions in the Duma and presidential voting have been well documented, the parallel behavior of local officials has attracted much less attention. But an article in the current issue of Kommersant-Vlast’ provides new insights on how officials at the local levels are applying the principles more senior ones have adopted.
Anastasiya Karimova, a correspondent for that journal, describes what happened to her when she ran for the municipal assembly in Moscow’s Basman district on March 2, an experience that she says provided her with some “priceless” lessons on the nature of Russian politics (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=864879).
Her problems began when she tried to register. Local election officials quickly passed on the applications of United Russia but scrutinized with great care those of anyone else. She says she succeeded only because of the free advice she had gotten from the Club of Deputies of Municipal Assemblies.
Then there was the problem of resources for the campaign. She had a budget of 40,000 rubles (1600 U.S. dollars), not a lot for a district with 15,000 voters. But her United Russia opponents had “according to preliminary figures” a budget of six times that amount.
Moreover, she continues, they had two additional advantages. On the one hand, they ran as a slate thus allowing each to support all of them. And on the other, they were able to use official resources, including veterans’ councils whose members worked to ensure that United Russia voters got to the polls.
They also used a variety of other “administrative” measures. Persons unknown but almost certainly linked to the city government tore down her posters minutes after they were put up, and they spread rumors about her that led many people to inquire as to whether there was some reason “they don’t like you in the offices of the municipality?”
Among the most widespread of these sponsored rumors, she said, were that she worked for an escort service – a fabricated erotic picture was put in the mailboxes of many residents in her district two days before the vote – and that she was “well-known” in Internet circles, apparently now a very bad thing to be in Russia.
Again and again, she wrote, local people asked her why at the age of 19 she was running for office “Isn’t that a little young?” – a query that apparently reflected something they had been told. She noted that she was the same age Aleksandr Nevsky was when he defeated the Swedes, but this argument did not convince many.
On election day itself, she repeatedly heard voters “maliciously” say, “Such a little one and already eager for power.” She received some 1700 votes, far fewer than the nine United Russia candidates, two doctors and one school director who won and will now run the region.
But despite all the actions officials and United Russia took against her and the defeat she suffered at the polls, Karimova said she had no regrets about taking part. It had provided her with a “priceless” education on the state of Russian democracy. “It had always seemed to me that democracy begins at the local level.”
Now, the Vlast’ journalist reflected sadly, “that view apparently needs to be revised.”

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