The results of the mayoral election in Sochi were as expected. United Russia’s candidate Anatoly Pakhomov won. No repeat of the Murmansk mayoral contest allowed. The losers, Solidarity’s Boris Nemtsov and the Communist Party candidate Yuri Dzaganiya, have already charged massive fraud, dirty campaign tricks, and use of a variety “administrative resources” to hoist Pakhomov to victory. Both candidates were systematically barred from local television, their billboards removed, and campaign literature confiscated. Local Sochi tv even smeared poor Nemtsov with a 20 minute film claiming he was a South Korean spy. And what dastardly plot was he hatching for the east Asian nation? Conspiring to move the Olympics to Seoul. As if.
Early voting served as the perfect opportunity for stuffing the box in favor of Pakhmonov. And if that wasn’t enough to tip the balance, then mobile poll buses were dispatched to the Abkhaz border. Last week, Sochi’s electoral committee ruled that citizens of Abkhazia with Russian passports and Sochi residency could cast ballots. As a result, this election is probably the one of first to make a serious effort to enfranchise the homeless.
There isn’t much more to say about a contest which began as a circus and closed with a magic show. Votes were made to disappear and reappear at the behest of the electoral committee’s magicians. Nothing says this more than the enormous gap between exit polls and the election results, via Ezhdnevnyi zhurnal:
The surveys of exist polls gave the following results: Pakhomov, the candidate from United Russia, 46 percent; Nemstov the candidate for Solidarity, 35 percent. In other words, a run off. Yuri Rykov, the head of the city electoral committee, offered entirely different figures to the court of public opinion. Pakhmonov – almost 78 percent, Nemtsov 13.5 percent.
One candidate had to score 50 percent to avoid a run off. United Russia wasn’t going to take a chance even if that meant making electoral fraud even more blatant than usual. After all, it ain’t called “managed democracy” for nothin’.
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By Sean — 9 years ago
Last Sunday’s municipal elections in 75 of Russia’s 83 regions were like a bad rerun. Everyone played their role well in the latest stage production of managed liberal democracy. United Russia trounced its rivals, most importantly in the coveted Moscow city government where UR took 32 of 35 seats. The country’s real opposition, the Communist Party, got a mere three. Similar results were reproduced across the country. Overall numbers show that the Party of Power averaged around 70% of the votes nationwide, while the Communists hovered around 13%. The rest–Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party were in the single digits. The liberal party meld of Yabloko and Right Cause got nothin’ worth mentioning.
Of course, every oppositional faction–which ranges from those who could participate like the Communists, LDPR, Just Russia, and Yabloko and those who couldn’t like Solidarity–hemmed and hawed about election fraud. No Russian election can occur without it just like no sitcom sounds right without canned laughter. And especially the city Duma elections in Moscow. Did anyone actually think that the United Russia was going to allow the Communists, LDPR, and Yabloko have any say so in Moscow’s $40 billion budget? Democracy–shmocracy. This election, like all of them, was about power and money.
But Russia isn’t alone in this. It seems that no election anywhere can occur without someone committing or pointing to fraud. In an age void of mass social movements where “democracy” holds global hegemony, crying electoral fraud has become the sole “revolutionary” act in a very anti-revolutionary world. Well, I guess that and blowing yourself up. A century ago, politics was a bitter struggle between the have-nots and the haves. Economic crisis brought some nations to their knees; while others simply imploded. Now, “oppositional” politics has been reduced to the presence or absence of ballots.
Committing and claiming electoral fraud, therefore, has become integral to the logic of liberal democracy itself. For those in power, fraud serves as a soft means of reproducing their power. For those in opposition, it provides a safe raison d’etre where “democracy” is a rallying cry that never questions the foundations of the social-economic system it rests upon: capitalism. So for opposition parties in Russia, the political contest is relegated to the superstructure: the accuracy of ballots, equal access to the polls, equal participation in campaigning, etc. The ballot is a political end in and of itself.
How else can one understand the “protest” by Duma deputies from the LDPR, Communists and Just Russia? On Wednesday members from all three factions staged a walkout to protest Sunday’s election results citing the mass falsification of votes in favor of the Party of Power. The deputies demanded a meeting with President Medvedev. When the President phoned LDPR hetman Zhironovsky and KPRF batka Zyuganov with a promise of a future meeting, the “revolutionaries” signaled that they would return to their stations, though Zyuganov says that his KPRFers won’t do anything until they actually meet with him. “The fight goes on,” he declared. Spoken like a true heir of Lenin.
The action is rightly being hailed as nothing more than a stunt staged by the factions or possibly even by the Kremlin itself. United Russia dominates the Duma so thoroughly that it could function just fine without them, making the opposition’s walkout utterly meaningless. The scandal will unlikely move any passions among the populace. One thing you can say about many Russians, they are hardly naive when it comes to the tenor of this political dance. According to a recent Levanda Center poll, 62 percent of Muscovites see elections as “simply imitations of a battle” between political elites. Or, as Anton Orekh writes on Ekho Moskvy, “The mutiny has been staged, just like the elections. First we were shown an imitation of elections and now an imitation of fury with the results of the elections.” It’s like a revision of the Soviet adage: “You pretend to govern and we pretend to support you.”
Perhaps the most interesting comment comes from Eurasianist philosopher extraordinaire Alexander Dugin:
“I think that a high level of depolitiization exists in the country. This means that both the people and those in power agree that serious political questions that would demand including the public are not on the table. Therefore interest in parties is sapped and party politics is transformed into a kind of ceremony, a ritual.
This has an impact on elections, because I think that people simply don’t participate in them. It is clear to everyone in the elections: no intrigue, no interests, and no enemies and no friends. In this sense, I think that interest in elections is totally absent.
Dugin went on to conclude: “Therefore I think that elections [are] very uninteresting, boring, and predictable, and naturally United Russia will win. It’s possible to not hold elections at all. [They should] simply announce that United Russia won.”
We should listen to Dugin. Instead of participating in the ritual of pointing out (yet again) the fraud of Russia’s elections (oh, the horror!), perhaps we should sit back and think of them as if they’ve already “jumped the shark” and hope that the Kremlin at some point cancels this bad sitcom so we can move on to other business.Post Views: 540
By Sean — 11 years ago
As I’m write, the last day of electioneering is closing in Moscow. Now we wait for Sunday to see the results of what some Western media outlets are speculating might be “Russia’s last,” “the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed,” and a symbol of Russia’s return to “a Byzantine form of state-society relations” where the national leader is transformed into a “semi-divine figure.” “Democracy” in Russia, says the Guardian, is about to depart. If it is departing, then what will it leave behind? Yes, United Russia’s recent media blitz has boosted Putin’s approval ratings as high as 80 percent, all but ensuring that it will sweep the elections with overwhelming force. Come Monday, can we expect Putin to make a statement similar to “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. That’s what happened in the — after the 2000 election, I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election.”? For as some are saying, this is less of a parliamentary election than a referendum on Putin himself.
Thank god we have the eXile to remind us a different time, roughly ten years ago, when the NY Times hailed Russia most corrupt election to date, the Presidential elections of 1996, “A Victory for Russian Democracy.” In an interview with the eXile, Michael Meadowcroft, who then headed the OSCE’s mission to monitor the Russian polls, explains how “he was pressured by OSCE and EU authorities to ignore serious irregularities in Boris Yeltsin’s heavily manipulated 1996 election victory, and how EU officials suppressed a report about the Russian media’s near-total subservience to pro-Yeltsin forces.” The story about how a politically embattled and unpopular Yeltsin beat Communist Party candidate Zyuganov is a staple in understanding 1990s Russia. And if the deluge of reports about election fraud in Sunday’s election are any indication, it’s also a tactic worth repeating with only a few minor upgrades.
It’s also a reminder of how the West’s problem with Russia’s democracy is not one about “democracy” as such. It’s about the for who democracy benefits. Now granted, the concern over Russian democracy has little to do with the Russian people, that is except for the few idealists who still hold on to its revolutionary potential. The Russian people are only rhetorically taken into consideration. The language of “human rights” is merely a linguistic truncheon wielded in the hope that Russia might bend to Western hegemony. The question of Russian democracy is not about all those moral trappings. It’s about who holds power and to what end. And if the election was a referendum on a Russian candidate that was more amendable to West’s collective economic and political interests, there is no doubt that much of the reporting on electoral fraud would be muted.
No, this won’t be Russia’s last election. Because if anything this election has proven that democracy is an effective way to rule. Just look at all the fancy tools it provides for coning the masses into thinking that the powerful actually have their best interests at heart. Advertising, opinion polls, focus groups, exit polls, internet campaigns, even phone messages to voters mobile phones are all deployed with market precision. Much is made of Russia’s virtual politics, but what is often forgotten is that there is nothing particularly Russian about it. One day, hopefully not far into the distant future, all of us on this planet will realize that democracy has lost its revolutionary potential and that through the nexus of technology and power it has become one with the various apparatuses of control. In the meantime, United Russia’s perfection of democracy’s deployment should make Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s own version of Karl Rove, smile at his greatest creation: managed democracy.
The word “managed” evokes images of performance. We see a whole host of managed performances taking shape on the eve of the polls opening. Since the results of Sunday’s poll will prove to be anti-climatic, the only potential snag in the election would be low voter turnout. Low turnout is proving to be Putin’s soft underbelly. And it’s a weakness that is partially his own making. It was Putin that declared the election to be a referendum on his rule. Low turnout, even if the margin of victory is vast, will be a dagger to Putin’s side. However, if polls conducted by the Levada Center are any indication the turnout will be more than adequate. It’s predicted that 63 percent of Russians plan on voting Sunday. This is despite that fact that 85 percent of television viewers pay no attention to political coverage.
However, a Russian “silent majority” won’t fly. While low turnout is a signal of the “satisfied voter” in the United States, in Russia, non-participation is a sign of protest and discontent. Mobilizing the vote therefore takes on special significance since when considering Russia’s history of democracy, whether “socialist” or otherwise, the ritual of participation has always been emphasized. You see this in efforts to mobilize voters to participate in elections for local soviets in the 1920s. Sure the elections were single candidate and rigged, but that didn’t stop the Soviet regime from dumping resources into going through the motions. The very form of democracy has always been more important than its content, and now is no different. As Boris Kagarlitsky rightly notes,
The authorities cannot control whom we give our votes to but in every possible way try to make us participate in the electoral process. They are more concerned with the turnout than with the electoral preferences. There is certain logic to this position. Compulsory social rituals like coming to the polls are important to the authorities despite all the futility of the polls themselves. They want us to act in certain situations blindly and without dissent. Training obedience is the central element to the domination system.
I couldn’t agree more. This makes for an interesting comparison with the United States. While in the latter control is administered via apathy, alienation, and individualist driven consumerism, in Russia, at least until commodity production has fully sown its alienating seeds, the ritual still matters. The system’s legitimacy is still dependent to some extent on civic participation. The very fact that Russians will vote at all helps to re-inscribe the system’s right to exist and do so as it sees fit.
One thing that shouldn’t slip from the observer’s eye is how this re-inscribing is facilitated by the wedding of Russian capital with “managed democracy.” Notice how mobile companies like Beeline, Megaphon, and Sky Link have all jumped on board to mobilize the vote. Their customers will receive unsolicited text messages like “Go vote on 2 December! Your vote is important to the entire country!” All of this is done at the behest of Russia’s Election Commission. Voter mobilization will also take on more analog forms. Polling stations around the country plan on doling out food, coupon booklets, medical exams, haircuts, prizes, and other items to wet the civil appetite.
Russia’s political and economic class will certainly led a hand. Industrialists big and small like Sergei Nedoroslev, the owner of Kaskol, see election day like a holiday where families gather and vote together. “I live and vote here [in Moscow],” he told Vedomosti. “And I have not missed one single election. It’s a holiday, buns will be given!” He plans on escorting his wife to the polls after lunch. So too this anonymous manager of a metallurgical firm. “I always go vote with my entire family. It’s like a holiday. [Voting] is everyone’s social duty.” Yes, the ritual of voting must be important. Even metro-sexual oligarch Roman Abramovich plans on traveling to his Siberian fiefdom of Chukota to cast his vote.
If voter turnout does surprise Russia watchers and ends up low, there is always Plan B. The lack of physical appearance will certainly be supplemented with a flood of absentee ballots. Absentee ballots allow one person to cast several votes in several different polling stations. Police in Komi have already confiscated 60 absentee ballots purchased on Kirov region. Defiant, the Communists have vowed to not stand for the counting of “dead souls.” But in reality, what are they going to do about it?
All of this engenders questions about the political nature of Putin’s system. The question of whether it is authoritarian or democratic is too polarizing. Thinking about Russia as one or the other masks more than it reveals. Russia’s inner workings seems be defy both categories. Like most modern states, it’s a mixture. A political pendulum that sways between the two poles, but never mustering enough power to swing all the way to one or the other, even briefly. So what kind of system are we talking about here? Does it require us to invent a new analytical language to describe it? Is “Putinism”–if we can even call it this–and all of its political trappings–“managed democracy” and “sovereign democracy”–the ideological substructure of Russia’s 21st century modernization? Is it really a perversion of democracy, or is it simply the vanguard of its global exhaustion?
On this I guess we’ll have to way and see.Post Views: 514
By Sean — 4 years ago
The latest round of US sanctions imposed on Putin’s associates assumes that if you squeeze the oligarchs orbiting Putin, then they will in turn compel him to change his policy toward Ukraine. The idea an oligarchy rules Russia, where the tsar acts as an arbiter over elite conflicts is a staple of Kremlinology. It was Edward Keenan who most systematically put forward this argument in his seminal article “Muscovite Political Folkways.” Then Keenan wrote, “the Muscovite, and later Russian, systems tended to prefer oligarchic and collegial rule, to avoid the single leader, and to function best when the nominal autocratic was in fact politically weak.” Indeed, Keenan’s schematic of this oligarchic rule resembled an atom where the tsar sat and the center and oligarch neutrons and electrons orbited him. Keenan’s argument was significant because it suggested that the idea that Russia was a pure autocracy was a myth. The all-powerful tsar was a fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy to conceal the real and often conspiratorial nature of power in Russia.
Keenan’s argument was and remains compelling. It has also endured. In December, Andrew Weiss wrote of Putinism in the New York Times:
Yet Russia’s oligarchy (that is, the control of the state and economy by a small group of well-placed, extremely wealthy insiders) is alive and well. The supposedly all-powerful Mr. Putin actually devotes much of his time to refereeing bitter disputes between oligarchs like Igor I. Sechin, the head of the state oil company Rosneft, and Gennady N. Timchenko, a co-owner of Russia’s largest oil trading company and an independent natural gas producer. These latter-day oligarchs, many of whom have built vast business empires on the back of longstanding connections to Mr. Putin, are part of a political tradition that dates back to the rapid expansion of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy in the 1400s.
Given events over the last few weeks, does this analysis of Putin still hold? With Crimea are we not witnessing Putin’s transformation into a truly autocratic ruler who is no longer restrained by the oligarchs orbiting him? If this is the case, then the underlining premise of the US sanctions is a miscalculation.
Indeed, press accounts say that Putin’s decision to take Crimea was ad hoc and made with the counsel of a shrinking group of advisors from the security apparatus. As Shawn Walker recently reported in the Guardian:
Despite the staunch support for the move in Russia’s parliament, it is clear the decision to seize Crimea was taken by a very small circle of people. Russian newspapers reported that all their government sources had been taken completely by surprise by the move.
The president now takes counsel from an ever-shrinking coterie of trusted aides. Most of them have a KGB background like the president and see nefarious western plots everywhere.
They are also less likely to hold any assets abroad. Consider this with Putin’s calls over the last year for Russia’s elites to renationalize their assets so they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the west. Indeed, some in the Russian press argue that the US sanctions will strengthen Putin’s grip over the elite rather than loosen it. Now he has the patriotism card at his disposal along with “I told you so” to any elite who feels the financial pinch from sanctions. The sanctions could also be inducing a patriotic fervor causing Russian elites to pull their money out of the west. The last time something like this happened was at the outbreak of WWI in 1914. In fact, in a television interview, Yuri Kovalchuk, Putin’s so-called banker and US sanctions victim, warned other oligarchs that “people intuitively understand which side of the barricade a business is on.” He added:
“You can have an apartment abroad or a villa on the (French) Riviera. Fine. The question is, where is your home? And one’s home is not just money. Where is your family, where do your children go to school, where do they work? . . . And what sports team do you sponsor? Businesses are different – one might sponsor, say, a serious soccer team in the premier league, another a sandlot (unorganized) team. That’s not important – the question is, where is the team – here or outside your country?”
While there have been rumors of elite grumbling and dismay at Putin’s actions, none have said a thing publicly. Why? Because Putin holds all the cards. With Crimea he has the power and a patriotic public behind him. He is no longer beholden to oligarch whispers. And perhaps thanks to US sanctions he can further subordinate the “fifth column” in the elite and become a true autocrat.Post Views: 1,944