Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Federal Subject Heads May Be Punished if Turnout is Too Low – or Too High

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Although Putin’s press secretary has said that the Kremlin isn’t going to rate governors on the basis of turnout in the March elections (interfax.ru/russia/594832), the Kremlin’s obsession with boosting turnout makes it likely that they will be punished if participation rates are too low, Anton Chablin says.

            But what is interesting, the Svobodnaya pressa commentator says, is that they may be punished as well if participation is abnormally high because that will as it has in the past when turnout in some places was at or above 100 percent of the electorate call into question the legitimacy of the voting (svpressa.ru/politic/article/190225/).

The risk of falling into that latter category is likely greatest among the leaders of the non-Russian republics to judge both on past practice – they often had artificially high participation rates – and the new projections of the Petersburg Politics Foundation about projected turnout in the upcoming vote.

            In the past, the republics of the North Caucasus have often had improbable or even unbelievable participation rates, in some cases exceeding the number of registered voters, an embarrassment for Moscow because such reporting calls attention to one of the ways in which Russian elections are anything but free, fair and honest.

            For the March voting, the Petersburg Politics Foundation projects overall participation to be “a little less than 52 percent,” low by Russian and international standards, far lower than has been the case recently in other countries and well below the 70 percent rate that many say the Putin regime wants.

            It might be easy for Moscow to make up some of the difference with enhanced numbers from the non-Russian republics.  The foundation projects that participation in four of them – Daghestan, Tyva, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Chechnya -- will be above 90 percent and that in three others – Tatarstan, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia – it will be above 80 percent.

            If that turns out to be true, many observers will assume that the election returns have been fixed and thus decide the voting outcome was less legitimate than it should be, something that is a key concern of the Kremlin especially at a time when it is positioning itself as the leader of the Russians. Getting large votes from non-Russian groups could call that into question.

            But there is another consequence of the Kremlin’s concern about abnormally high participation rates: If the non-Russian republics do return such figures, that could become the basis after the election not only for the replacement of republic heads but possibly for the amalgamation of non-Russian republics with neighboring and predominantly Russian regions.

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