Monday, October 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Falsification of Elections Seen as a Partial Precondition for ‘Orange’-Style Revolution

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 19 – While “an orange revolution” in Russia remains unlikely anytime soon, a Moscow commentator says, the powers that be there are creating one of the conditions for it: the falsification of election results to the point of implausibility because “no one likes to be deceived.”
“If a voter cannot express his will via elections” or if he concludes that he has done so and the regime has ignored his vote, Mikhail Rostovsky argues in a commentary in today’s “Moskovsky komsomolets,” then that voter “will go out into the streets,” as events in Tbilisi and Kyiv have shown (
“But if the powers that be want an orange conflagration in our country,” he warns, “then all they have to do is to continue to act in the same spirit that they are doing now.” And he asks rhetorically, “is it obligatory to continue experiments [like those in Georgia and Ukraine] in Moscow?”
Western students of orange-style revolutions have routinely suggested that they are most likely to occur when opposition political parties have plausible reason to believe that they have gained sufficient support to win but have had their victory taken away from them by incumbents through blatant falsification of the results of a popular vote.
All polls suggest that the Kremlin’s United Russia Party would have won enough seats to be the dominant party in most if not all regional and city elections on October 11 but that it would not have won nearly as many votes or been in a position to freeze out most other parties if incumbent officials had not falsified results.
Consequently, as Rostovsky’s article makes clear, the most recent round of elections in the Russian Federation do not all the requirements that many see as essential for an orange revolution, but they do create a partial precondition for just such an upsurge in popular anger, all the more so because of the clumsiness of the defenders of what the regime did.
Some officials in the Central Election Commission and others in the Moscow city government made statements that reinforced the view that United Russia’s “victory” was tainted. When these statements were denied or withdrawn, Rostovsky says, that represented an effort of the powers that be to “put a brake on the scandal of possible falsifications.”
Such an approach, he continues, “is effective in the short term but not over the longer haul.” Indeed, the “Moskovsky komsomolets” commentator continued, “precisely such artful actions by [Georgian President Eduard] Shevardnadze and [Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma provoked the ‘orange revolutions’ in their countries.”
Up to now, Rostovsky points out, the falsification of elections has not been proved in a court of law, even thought that appears already to be the verdict of public opinion. And given the spate of articles which make the point that United Russia could have won a majority even officials did not engage in falsification, that judgment is likely to harden and spread.
Some in Moscow are focusing on “the professional degradation” of those responsible for the voting. After all, Rostovsky notes, the people “looking after elections” now are mostly the same as those who did so in the late Yeltsin period. But the problem is much deeper than any individual or group.
Rostovsky says that a former leader of a presidential administration of a CIS country once told him: “’You think that officials in the oblasts send in two figures – real and invented? Not on your life! None of the regional leaders wants to have himself dismissed. Only one set is sent up. No one knows the real results of elections.’”
When Vladimir Putin ended the election of governors five years ago, the Moscow commentator continues, many predicted disaster. Now, “the darkest prognoses of the skeptics are becoming true. For regional bosses, it is now important only to mechanically fulfill the directives of the chiefs that ‘the bear is the most important beast in Rus.’”
But whatever the causes – and hubris and greed are certainly among them – the willingness of those in power to falsify the vote has some “inevitable consequences” that they and others must consider, Rostovsky says, because “the most terrible thing for any power is when people cease to respect it.”
“As the examples of Brezhnev, Chernenko and their ilk showed,” the “Moskovsky komsomolets” observer argues, “it is possible to rule without the respect of society. But the processes of internal rot gradually transform the state organism into a half-empty shell.” And that process is not one of historical interest alone.
And he concludes, “the main political resource of [Vladimir] Putin always consisted not of ‘the FSB guns’ but of respect and support from the side of a large part of society,” while his supporters who believe they have to falsify elections to continue to boost him may now be doing more than any of Russian leader’s opponents to achieve exactly the opposite effect.

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