Election monitoring groups, independent media and some candidates have denounced various irregularities and violations of voting operations in Russia, where elections are underway since Friday to renew the Duma, the lower house of the national parliament, as well as to elect some administrations local and assign different governorates. The polls will close on Sunday and largely positive results are expected for the party of President Vladimir Putin, which has ruled the country in an authoritarian manner for more than twenty years.
Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party that is presenting itself in these elections as the main opposition force in the country, said he had reported many irregularities to the police and the electoral commission, including the presence, in many polling stations, of a number of votes. and more ballots than the number of voters.
An election-monitoring movement, Golos, and several independent media also reported violations including vote-buying and rather lax surveillance of ballots inside polling stations. Golos cited reports from his observers and local media which documented a number of apparent violations, including ballot papers kept in filing cabinets with the doors open and envelopes to hold the ballots that appear to have been opened and then resealed.
The head of the central electoral commission, Ella Pamfilova, said more than 6,200 ballots had been canceled in five regions for procedural and vote-recording violations – a rather low number compared to independent reports.
(AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
The Russians vote to renew the 450 seats in the Duma, the lower house of the national parliament, long controlled by United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, and other political groups controlled by the Kremlin or close to the government. In 2016, United Russia had obtained 54.2 per cent of the preferences, obtaining 343 seats, but in recent years it has had to face a consensus crisis due to economic difficulties, the numerous scandals involving members of the party, and the management of the coronavirus epidemic. According to polls by the Levada Center, an independent and rather reliable institution, United Russia now enjoys around 27 percent of the votes. It is not clear, however, whether this decline will be traceable in the results of the current elections.
Fraud and violations had been widely anticipated: the Kremlin’s electoral strategy is based on the ouster of the opposition and has so far been particularly effective. The most drastic measure was taken in June, when the political movement led by Alexei Navalny was declared illegal by a Moscow court because it was considered “extremist”. At the time of the sentence, Navalny had already been in prison for a few months with a spurious sentence, after having been the subject of an attempted poisoning which is credibly attributable to the Russian security forces.
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For the opposition, obtaining concrete results is complicated and dangerous. Almost all initiatives organized to persuade voters not to support United Russia candidates have been blocked.
One of these was proposed by the Navalny movement and is called “Smart vote”: the idea is to select a list of candidates – of opposition or in any case the least aligned possible – on which to converge all the votes against Putin, to ensure that as many deputies as possible that have not been approved by the Kremlin end up in the Duma and to minimize the consensus of United Russia. The Smart Voting app includes 225 candidates whose main characteristic is to not be aligned with the Kremlin, or to be as little as possible. The list includes nationalists, Stalinists and liberals, although obviously no members of the Navalny movement, as no one has been allowed to run.
Since Friday, when the voting operations began, the “Smart Voting” apps and all communication campaigns have been deleted from platforms and social networks: Apple and Google have removed the app from their stores, YouTube has removed several videos and the Telegram messaging app also blocked all automatic messages sent by Navalny’s movement.