Saturday, June 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Central Asian Voting in Local Russian Elections Undermining Their Legitimacy, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

                Staunton, June 22 – Citizens of Kyrgyzsan, Turkmennistan, Tajikistan and Belarus who have residence permits in the Russian Federation have the right to vote and be elected as deputies and mayors in local elections under the terms of a 2002 Russian law, a step analysts say the authorities may exploit but that deprive these votes of any legitimacy among native Russians.

            In a commentary on yesterday, Dmitry Remizov says that this arrangement, one that the Central Election Commission reiterated in messages to regional officials, is already leading some candidates to try to win the votes of these non-citizens and sparking fears that such votes might influence the outcome of elections (

            Oleg Gavryushenko, a specialist on electoral law, said that in Tyumen, “the electoral commission is in a state of shock” of the possibility that non-citizens can simply show their residence permits and must be given a ballot.  No one in local electoral commissions “has seen that happen before.”

            Local officials are scrambling to make sense of this. In Ekaterinburg, the election commission issued a decree specifying that Kyrgyz citizens have the right to be elected deputies in the municipal council but not mayor but that Tajiks need not just a residence permit but dual citizenship to take part in the voting.

            This confusion, Remizov says, has its roots in a June 12, 2002 law. That measure specified that “on the basis of international agreements … foreign citizens constantly living on the territory of corresponding municipal formations have the right to vote and be elected to organs of local government, to participate in other electoral activities in such campaigns, and also to take part local referenda on the very same basis as citizens of the Russian Federation.”

            Opponents of this arrangement, the commentator continues, say that it violates the constitution and raises questions in the minds of Russian voters about just what the top leadership of the country may be conceding to outsiders in accords with such neighboring countries.

Not surprisingly, he adds, this has sparked an intense exchange of opinions in the Russian blogosphere, with “some comparing the situation to France where presidential candidate Francois Holland won the election by promising immigrants ‘integration’ into French society. The same thing could happen in Russia as well.”

Tyumen election officials say that can’t happen because “Asians with resident permits for the region can be counted on one hand”  given that ”the majority of gastarbeiters do not have any registration.” But “this is the situation today – and in Tyumen,” Remizov notes, and asks rhetorically what might happen if the ratings of the authorities fall and they see the easily intimidated gastarbeiters as a new electoral resource?

Yevgeny Potapov the director of the Institute for the Development and Modernization of Social Ties, says that the authorities are likely to do just that and that their recent instructions to regional and local electoral commissions are “a trial balloon of the party of power,” one designed to see how Russian citizens will react.

But other experts are less disturbed,  Aleksey Sinelnikov, a political scientist who serves on the electoral commission in Rostov-on-Don, says that the few votes by Central Asians won’t matter. However, if one follows Moscow’s logic, he suggests “it would be logical to offer the vote to robots, zombies and extra-terrestrials as well.”

According to Remizov, the participation of non-citizens in Russian local elections will cost those polls of their “remaining legitimacy in the eyes of the Russian people.  And that in turn means that some will begin to use in local political struggles other non-parliamentary methods” to defend and advance their interests.

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