Correspondent in Moscow
For the first time in a legislative election in Russia, voting will take place during three days from Friday. The counting of the ballots will begin on Sunday night and no one doubts that the victory will be for ‘United Russia’, the party of the president Vladimir Putin, a formation that currently holds an absolute majority in the State Duma (Lower House of the Russian Parliament). This is at least indicated by the pro-government polls, which the opposition considers “manipulated.”
Andrei, who owns a kiosk in central Moscow that makes keys and repairs shoes, is convinced that “Putin’s party will certainly be the most voted». He does not fully agree with the current Kremlin policy, but believes that “there is no alternative … any other party would make it worse or lead us to disaster.” Andrei says he will go to his polling station on Sunday at the last minute.
The options are indeed very limited. Among the registered parties is that of the Communists, the one headed by the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovski (LDPR) and ‘Just Russia’, a group that defines itself as a social democrat, but whose policy hardly differs from the general lines set out by Putin. These three organizations, Fully domesticated by the Kremlin, together with the majority ‘United Russia’, they are the only ones with a presence in the current Parliament.
Liberals from “Yábloko” (apple) have also been authorized to participate in this week’s elections, although with all kinds of tripping, such as the stratagem of confusing the voter by cloning the ballots of the candidate for the State Duma for San Petersburg, Borís Vishnevsky, with opponents with identical names and surnames and the same physical appearance, or the direct veto suffered by the candidate of “Yabloko” for Pskov, Lev Shlósberg, who did not get the Justice to agree with him and has been left out.
Worst part have been the eternal extra-parliamentarians with Alexéi Navalni At the helm, whom they tried to poison last year and who is now serving a two-year, five-month prison sentence after a trial that even the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) described as “politicized.” He also has other criminal cases in progress, all of them, in the opinion of the opposition leader himself, “rigged.”
The candidacies of Navalni supporters, many also in prison, under house arrest or in exile, have been rejected because their organizations were described by the Russian courts as “extremists”. However, they trust that the so-called “smart vote” will work, consisting of supporting the candidate, from any other party except Putin, who has a better chance of winning. Trying so that ” United Russia ‘ get the fewest number of deputies possible of the 450 that the Duma has. This tactic has worked in the past, so the authorities try to fight it at all costs. All social media accounts calling for “smart voting” have been blocked.
Another threat that looms over the current legislatures is that of vote counting fraud, as has already happened in other calls. To the endemic lack of auditors, due to the impossibility of covering the entire immense territory of Russia, and to the direct pressures suffered in some regions by those who represent the formations that do not have the approval of power, it is added that this time there will be three days of voting and the possibility of casting the ballot electronically.
Grigori Melkoniants, co-president of the NGO ‘Golos’, which defends the rights of voters, argues that “there will be independent observers in only half of the polling stations” in Russia, which, together with the fact that the polls will remain too many days without surveillance, will leave a wide margin to the possibility of manipulation of the results. Even the cameras that previously filmed the voting process in schools have now been removed.
The leader of ‘Golos’, an organization classified in Russia as a “foreign agent” with the limitations that such stigma entails, also draws attention to the fact that “in some territories of Russia, for example in the North Caucasus, there is a clear danger for interveners who try to report irregular practices ”. On the other hand, Melkoniants believes that electronic voting in Moscow has been arranged in such a way that it can be more or less audited, but admits that “it will be impossible to do so nationwide.”
And this time Putin needs his party to retain the absolute majority more than ever. Thanks to this, last year he was able to face a constitutional reform that gives him the possibility of continuing in power for two more terms, until 2036. According to the Russian columnist, Konstantín Eggert, the top Russian leader “could again need such a majority to undertake High-profile decisions related to his political future (…) either to guarantee his continuity at the head of the country or to ensure that he will play a key role in appointing his successor ».