Staunton, June 16 – In 2004, the Russian government decided not to hold any vote in the summertime because of the difficulties of attracting people to the polls. For 16 years, it has remained true to that decision. But now, it is holding a referendum with voting between June 25 and July 1, and not surprisingly and perhaps intentionally faces the same problem.
Prior to 2004, elections in Russia were moved about quite often, but after that date, regional elections have been scheduled in October, Duma votes in December, and since 2006, elections other than presidential ones have been set for the second Sunday of September, the URA news agency reports (ura.news/articles/1036280422).
The decision not to hold elections in the summer, sociologist Sergey Shiryayev says, arose from the low turnout at such votes. People go to their dachas and aren’t thinking about public action, he says. Political analyst Dmitry Kovalev adds that it is also more difficult for the powers to mobilize their own supporters at that time.
Despite this tradition, Moscow decided to hold the referendum in the summertime. According to Shiryayev, it took that decision because it fears that there will be a second wave of the pandemic by then and that economic conditions will be even worse than today. Such changes could lead to unwanted outcomes even and perhaps especially if more people voted.
Regional officials have been told that Moscow expects them to turn out the vote and support for the government at the same levels they did for the 2018 presidential elections. Those who don’t, informed sources say, can expect to be severely punished, possibly losing their positions shortly thereafter.
Given that the referendum is taking place in the summer, many regional governments are going to find it very difficult to meet those standards, some experts say. But Shiryayev says the coronavirus may help: people aren’t planning to go on vacations as they normally would and so will be around. That gives the authorities an opening.
Nonetheless, he and other experts are convinced that achieving 70 percent participation rates with 70 percent approval is going to be hard and that the pursuit of such numbers and the consequences of not delivering them will drive ever more officials to falsify the results in Moscow’s favor.