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Russians have displayed no enthusiasm about the opportunity to elect top regional officials – the voter turnout in last Sunday’s elections of governors and local legislatures was extremely low. Experts say “voter fatigue” is the reason.” Also, numerous cases of election abuse worked as a major disincentive to going to the polls. The low turnout played into the hands of the ruling party, analysts add. In a situation like this United Russia attained victory in all regions and at elections of all levels.
Elections took place in 77 of the 83 constituent territories of the Russian federation. In some cases less than 15 percent of the electorate agreed to come to the polling stations. However, the voting would be recognized as valid even if just several dozen voters cast their ballots - the minimum turnout requirement was canceled six years ago.
On the whole, the elections resulted in no sensations, merely confirming the leading positions of United Russia. In five regions the gubernatorial seats went to the nominees of the ruling party. In the mayoral elections and the elections of local legislatures United Russia was in the lead, too. The election campaign – the first after the federal elections and the political reform, has shown that United Russia remains the dominating party. The Communist Party performed pretty well to have placed second.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the leader of United Russia, is quite happy with the results – he said the party performed even better than in the State Duma elections. “Everybody had expected to see the party’s fiasco after the December elections, and not because the party showed extremely bad results, but because everybody started talking about a downtrend, about the party “losing its grip on the situation and its originally firm foothold.” “Nothing of the sort happened,” he said.
The Opposition says the turnout statistics are “disastrous.” Besides, observers claim there were quite a few violations. Some argue the regional elections were even dirtier than the State Duma ones.
“The protest movement manifested itself openly in Moscow alone. In the regions the people were protesting inconspicuously - by refusing to vote. It was not a sort of organized protest action. Each individual made such a decision for oneself,” the daily Kommersant quotes State Duma Deputy Speaker Igor Lebedev, of the Liberal Democrat party, as saying. He explained the people had no confidence their coming to the polling stations can change something. Besides, regional level elections usually enjoy less interest with the people, than the federal ones.
A Just Russia faction deputy head Mikhail Yemelyanov believes that the process of the people’s alienation from the authorities is underway, and the low turnout is a kind of protest. “The authorities must take radical measures to let the people feel their votes can change the political system,” he said.
The Communist Party Central Committee’s secretary for information and analysis, Sergei Obukhov, said the voter turnout was a catastrophe. “In political science terms the low turnout illustrates the voters’ disappointment. The people do not believe their votes can change something. That’s a boycott, a verdict, a motion of no confidence in the entire election system,” Obukhov said.
“There are two reasons for the low turnout. Reason one is mass apathy after the federal election cycle. Reason two is the non-systemic opposition has taken no electoral shape,” says political scientist Rostislav Turovsky. He said “conformist voters have decided to take it easy, while non-conformist voters have no idea whom they should vote for.” However, in his opinion the legitimacy of today’s political system keeps dwindling and a very unstable situation is about to emerge.”
Taking part in the regional elections were nearly three dozen political parties. Most of them had themselves registered after the liberalization of the political legislation. However, experience shows that the novices are not a major factor of political life yet. Seats in the local legislatures have been distributed among the same four political parties which are represented in parliament – United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democrats and A Just Russia.
The Kremlin says that this time the federal authorities decided against tight control of the election campaign at all levels. A source in the presidential staff has told the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta political technologies are being replaced with politics. “Political technologies are a matter of tactics. Politics is a strategy. The drive for percentage points is futile. Election returns may be high, but if the people do not trust them, the authorities lose legitimacy. Competition is more precious than percentage points.” This new strategy was not strictly followed throughout the election campaign, though, the source said. “In some cases the local authorities tried to use the administrative resource, as before.”
The chief of the center for political technologies, Igor Bunin, believes there have been far fewer cases of rigging and of administrative pressures in last Sunday’s elections. “But there were more hopes in the wake of last December’s mass protest actions,” the analyst said. “The people who had been promised the restoration of direct elections of governors have been given far less than one may have anticipated. The municipal filter has proved too fine.”
The deputy chairman of the Center for Political Technologies, Alexei Makarkin, agrees the use of the administrative resource in the just-ended campaign was eased. “The federal center tried to make amendments to the local authorities’ mode of action.”
However judging by the Opposition’s claims about various violations it did not always work. Although the CEC has declared there have been a mere 55 complaints about violations in last Sunday’s elections, the association Golos has got 800 complaints.
Mass violations can be classified into two large groups, the RBC Daily quotes the secretary of A Just Russia’s branch, Vladislav Vakayev, as saying. For instance, the lists of voters contained the names of people allegedly employed at factories with continuous production cycle where there are no such factories at all. So-called modernized carousel voting was used widely, too.
“I have phoned the heads of regional election teams, and everybody agreed: such a large number of organized carousel voting cases is just unheard-of,” said A Just Russia leader Nikolai Levichev.
“In Barnaul, there were about 300 teams 4-5 young people each. Mostly students from rural areas who were used for multiple voting,” a co-chairman of the RPR-PARNAS party, Vladimir Ryzhkov, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Ryzhkov said he was really shocked. “Even the outrages of last December and March were exceeded in Barnaul last Sunday,” he said.
“The scale of the disaster is appalling,” the gubernatorial candidate in the Bryansk Region, Vadim Potomsky, of the Communist Party, has said. He argues that busfuls of voters were being driven about to cast ballots many times.
MOSCOW, October 15