Russian opposition politicians are used to finding opportunistic candidates with identical last names running against them to confuse voters at the polls. Now it seems that the impostors also change their face.
This is what Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the liberal Yabloko party, faces in his St. Petersburg district in the municipal elections this month.
Vishnevsky already knew that two of his opponents had changed their names to also be called Boris Vishnevsky, an update on the usual tactic of running a “double” to split the vote and give another candidate the victory.
But when an electoral poster for the district was unveiled on Sunday, it showed something much more striking: three almost indistinguishable Boris Vishnevskys, all bald, gray-haired and with the same beard. As a friend of Vishnevsky’s pointed out on Facebook, the easiest way to recognize the real Vishnevsky is that he was the only one who bothered to wear a tie.
“All this is done to mislead the voters, to mistake the fake for the real one, and instead of voting for the real Vishnevsky, vote for one of the fake ones,” the real Vishnevsky said in an interview. The fake, or at least the new ones, Vishnevskys, could not be contacted to obtain their statements.
Vishnevsky’s rivals have grown beards and mustaches for photographs and may have also submitted Photoshopped images to the election commission, Vishnevsky says. It also appears that at least one of the candidates had their head shaved or their hairline digitally altered for the image.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vishnevsky said. Previously, he called the tactic of “doppelgänger [doble]”of” political fraud “.
“A shame and a scandal”
At least one of Vishnevsky’s opponents, who until recently was named Viktor Bykov, is believed to have changed his look for photographs considerably. In an official photograph used on a St. Petersburg Government websiteBykov’s head was full of hair and he looked years younger than the photograph presented to the electoral commission.
Bykov’s identity was first revealed by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a news website from St. Petersburg published later a screenshot of a document that allegedly showed that he had changed his name on July 3. The election poster, published by Vishnevsky, confirms that one of his adversaries was formerly named Viktor Bykov.
Less is known about the other opponent, who was previously named Alexei Shmelev and was reportedly a sales manager at a St. Petersburg company. None of Vishnevsky’s opponents have campaigned or appeared in public. Until this week, it was unclear how they were presented, and it is still not entirely clear.
Vishnevsky has said he was unaware of the motivations of the men who came forward against him, but says: “I don’t think they agreed to expose themselves for free.”
The head of the Central Electoral Commission, Ella Pamfilova, has condemned the incident as a “shame and a scandal” in statements to Kommersant FM radio, according to reports. Reuters. He has also explained that due to how the law is written, the “doubles” could continue to participate in the elections. Pamfilova has proposed that the two candidates submit new photographs, according to the RIA news agency, but this Tuesday the photographs remained the same in the office of the local electoral commission.
It is not a new tactic
The “double” candidates appear regularly during Russian election cycles, which can be surprisingly close despite expectations that the ruling party, United Russia, will retain a majority in the Duma (legislative assembly). Increased opposition to United Russia and growing support for the communist KPRF party appears to have spooked the government.
Appointing doubles can subtract valuable votes in close elections. The Meduza media reported last week that the candidates doppelgänger They ran for the Duma in at least three districts of Moscow, mostly against Communists with great chances at the polls.
But the campaign against Vishnevsky stands out because his opponents legally changed their names, although the candidates still have different patronyms (middle names that are usually assigned to Russian children according to the father’s name), because there are two doubles instead of just one and, of course, because men have dedicated themselves to making cosplay politician to derail the vote.
“Every time there are elections we say that these are the dirtiest there has ever been,” says Vishnevsky, asked how this campaign compared to previous ones. “I am sure that we will also say the same in the next elections.”
Translated by Lara Lema