Saturday, September 16, 2017

Moscow Recounts Seen Returning Russia to Where It was in 2011 when Falsifications Sparked Mass Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – After opposition candidates appeared to have won 260 mandates in Moscow city district councils, the city’s election agency ordered recounts because of supposed falsifications of the results in what is a transparent effort to displace the opposition winners in favor of pro-Kremlin United Russia candidates.

            This has the effect, Znak’s Yekaterina Vinokurova says, of returning the city and indeed Russia as a whole to the situation in which the widespread conviction that the authorities had stolen the elections prompted a wave of mass protests (com/2017-09-15/nepriyatie_itogov_vyborov_2017_vernulo_moskovskie_vlasti_v_2011_god).

            Unlike in 2011, when opposition groups were charging officials with falsification, now officials are using what they say are various electoral violations to justify recounts that may lead to a change in the outcomes of at least some races, reducing the number of opposition winners and increasing the number of United Russia ones.

            Given that city officials had earlier declared that the voting had taken place without significant violations and that the recounts so far have been ordered only in places where opposition figures won, there are certain to be suspicions that officials are once again stealing the election.

            Grigory Melkonyants, a leader of the Golos organizing, tells Vinokurova that “nothing new has taken place in Moscow. Recounts with ensuring falsification of results of the voting in the capital were widely applied in 2011 when voters chose the sixth State Duma.” At the time, Russians demanded a more honest approach to voting. 

            Andrey Kolyadin,head of regional programs at the Moscow Institute of Social Research, adds that “the government needs to understand that if it does not fulfill at least part of its own laws, sometimes citizens will cease to fulfill theirs,” implicitly acknowledging that there may have been real violations but that officials are treating them selectively.

            And Yekaterina Schulmann of the Presidential Academy of Economics and State Service notes that “the protests against falsification of the elections in 2011-2012 exerted an enormous influence on elections throughout the country,” including in Moscow where the number of observers has typically been highest and the possibilities of violations least.

            But she warns that “the undemocratic tradition of complete control by the mayor’s office of local administrations and the actual lack of local self-administration” remain very much alive.  She suggests that it is critical that Russians protest against this as much as possible because “society still doesn’t have any more effective instruments of influence” on the authorities.

            Given the low level of participation in the municipal elections on September 10, it seems unlikely that there will be the mass protests about this that accompanied the Duma vote.  But at the same time, conditions in the country are much worse; and any protest that does occur could rapidly gain the backing of many concerned about other things as well. 

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