Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Vote ‘Discredits’ Claims Russia is a Democracy, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 13 – The way Moscow officials managed Sunday’s elections in order to guarantee the outcome is “a shame” which “devalues the results of these elections, discredits the electoral system and elections in the eyes of the population,” and transforms any claims of “democratization and liberalization into empty words,” according to a Russian analyst.
In an article posted on Polit.ru yesterday, Aleksandr Kynyev, the head of regional programs of the Moscow Foundation for the Development of Information Policy, argued for that conclusion on the basis of a close comparison of the voting in Moscow with that in Russia’s regions (www.polit.ru/news/2009/10/12/kynev.html).
In most of the other regions of the country where voting took place, “despite various forms of manipulation,” he pointed out, “the results of the elections conformed to general electoral regularities.” But “in Moscow, the results contradict good sense and objective data about the social-economic situation of the city.”
“If one compares the results in the regional elections of October 11 with the elections of 2007, there is nowhere a greater gap in favor of the party of power as was reported in Moscow,” Kynyev noted. In Bashkortostan and Kemerovo, he continues, Sunday’s results were similar to the elections to the Duma, but even there, in most cases,” United Russia received fewer votes.
Kynyev continued by pointing out that “in all other regions in the elections of the regional parliaments, the results [for Untied Russia] were lower than in the elections to the State Duma, including those on the territory of Tula oblast and Mari El, where elections took place” on Sunday.
But in Moscow in contrast, the percentage of voters choosing United Russia rose from 54 percent last year to 66 percent this, a pattern that is improbable given that the trend everywhere else is in the opposite direction and one that Kynyev said lacks “even the appearance of plausibility” and “discredits” Russian elections and Russian democracy as a whole.
Indeed, he said, “the elections in Moscow show that all this [talk about democracy and liberalization] is simply empty words” and that for the powers that be in Russia, “their internal elite fratricidal struggles are more important” that the views of the population and that they will manage elections on the basis of that view.
Many people focused on the enormous number of falsifications that the Moscow city officials engaged in on election day, Kynyev noted. But the control of this city election began long before. First, the officials did what they could to weed out undesirable candidates in part because only candidates could have observers at the polls.
Second, the city government tried to keep the campaign to a minimum so that few people would take part, and third, in many regions officials did not even put up the necessary information about where to vote so that some Muscovites who may have wanted to vote could not do so.
“Even in the North Caucasus,” a region notorious for official controls of the results of elections, United Russia received a smaller percentage of the vote than the party of power did in the capital. And the same was true even in Mari El, despite the massive use of administrative measures in the run-up to and during the voting.
“The general tendency in the majority of territories,” Kynyev concluded, “confirms that the party of power is gradually losing support if one compares the votes it received this time with those of elections in earlier years.” And consequently, “territories whose officials are prepared to do anything in order to preserve their power appear especially odious.”
Numerous other election experts and monitors drew similar conclusions. Sergey Petrunin, an observer for Kasparov.ru, for example, said that the powers that be in the Russian capital had so arranged things that “there will be fewer opposition figures in the new Moscow city Duma than in the parliament of the Chechen Republic!”
Indeed, he continued, “for the first time over the last 20 years, Moscow has not simply approached the national autonomies with their ‘particular electoral culture’ but in a certain way exceeded them, rapidly approaching the results even not of Belarus but rather of a complete Turkmenbashki,” a reference to the late dictator of Turkmenistan.
And what makes all this so pathetically sad, Petrunin said, is that “United Russia could have won in the capital city a majority of votes in an absolutely honest way. Yes, [its] vote total would have been somewhat less.” But it could have then formed an alliance with loyal opposition groups (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4AD2B0010BF6C.html).
That is did not do so, he suggested, was simply from “a habit which is second nature,” a habit that many Russians hoped their government would have overcome and that most but tragically not all Western countries have argued is critically important for the future of Russia and its relations with others.

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