Monday, September 17, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Gerrymandering Russian-Style

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 17 – In order to boost the percentage he and the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party are likely to garner in parliamentary elections later this year, members of the entourage of Kaliningrad Governor Georgiy Boos are thinking about combining his district with the Adygei Republic or with Russian citizens resident abroad.
Combining Kaliningrad with that North Caucasus republic, observers told “Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony” today, could guarantee a “crushing” victory for Boos and the Kremlin because Adygeia has never failed to deliver more than 85 percent of its electors for United Russia (
But combining Kaliningrad with a district consisting of Russian citizens resident abroad might not have the same effect: while there may be as many as 1.5 million of them around the world, very few of them take the time to cast ballots in Russian elections.
Indeed, one official from the Russian foreign ministry told the paper that in the last election, only 4211 of the 371,444 Russian citizens resident in Germany alone participated – some 1.13 percent – and a figure far too small to make a significant difference in the percentage Boos and the United Russian Party may get.
Three factors are driving this uniquely Russian form of gerrymandering. First, although party lists now predominate over single-member districts in Russia’s parliamentary elections, smaller regions need to combine with larger ones in composing the lists of party candidates.
Second, Boos, like other senior party officials, has been told by even more senior party and government officials that he must find a way to ensure that his election results will be impressive if he is to maintain his influence in Moscow. Should the support he attracts be too small, it could point to his own demise politically.
And third, the RF Central Election Commission has decided to combine electors living abroad not with districts in the Moscow region as has been the case earlier but region by region on an ad hoc basis, thus allowing political entrepreneurs like Boos to propose combinations not employed anywhere else.
This strange reduction in the importance of borders, internal and international, “Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony” continued, may mean that the vote later this year and in the future will be based on a very strange map, one that might feature a “Kaliningrad-Adygeia” district or one combining Kaliningrad, Poland and the Baltic states.
If that should happen, Governor Boos would be in line to replace Governor Gerry as the best possible eponymous epithet for electoral manipulation: Even the good New England leader never thought to go beyond the borders of his own state and possibly combine districts there with ones from, say, Alabama.

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