Russian opposition divided over online ‘smart voting’ campaign · Global Voices


“The Kremlin and United Russia are devious and sophisticated. To win we have to be smart, ”said Alexey Navalny in his November 2018 article video launch of the smart voting campaign.

An influential Russian activist’s call to “vote smart” in the upcoming local elections has left the country’s opposition bitterly divided – once again.

September 8, 19 regions of Russia at the polls elect local governors and parliamentarians. The mood is particularly tense in Moscow, where the electoral commission has banned independent opposition candidates from standing. Mass demonstrations took place in the Russian capital every weekend since the controversial commission decision in July. The police violently detained thousands of people and stopped several times opposition politicians.

Many of the rejected candidates are linked to the Anti-corruption foundation led by Alexey Navalny, whose YouTube videos detailing the misdeeds of powerful politicians regularly rack up thousands of views. In a video from November 2018, Navalny described his “smart voting” strategy, urging compatriots to challenge pro-Kremlin candidates by voting for the stronger alternative, regardless of which party they represent. The Russian opposition has already called for a tactical vote: in the 2011 parliamentary elections, Navalny called on the Russians to vote for “whoever [else]Besides the ruling United Russia party.

But this time, Navalny’s drive to vote tactically is driven by big data.

Last year, Navalny and his colleagues launched a website which allows users to enter the address where they are registered to vote. It then calculates which candidate is most capable of defeating United Russia in the given constituency. A Telegram bot offers the same service. The tool appears to be popular, or at least popular enough that a Moscow court block the site on December 19, 2018, on the grounds that it did not offer users the possibility to refuse the processing of their personal data.

“In some places there are better candidates,” Navalny explained in the 2018 video. “In other places there are more opposition candidates. In some places there are single-member ridings, in others there are multi-member ridings. Some have one tower, others have two. Most people don’t want to deal with all of this. We will therefore take care of it for you; we will do the analysis […] and you vote for the candidate most likely to weaken United Russia and its monopoly.

Navalny argued that any attempt at a formal alliance between opposition parties would quickly be crushed by the Kremlin. But because the opposition vote was always divided between several parties, he continued, candidates from United Russia or pro-Kremlin are often able to win constituencies with only 35% of the vote or less. For example, while the ruling party won 38 of 45 seats in the last Moscow City Duma elections, only 16 of them were won with more than 50% of the vote.

These statistics are important in light of the decline in popularity of Russian authorities in recent years. By January 2019, United Russia ‘ approval rate fell to 32.2%, its lowest in 14 years. Observers were quick to point out that not only did Putin choose to run as independent in the 2018 presidential elections, but candidates endorsed by United Russia in the upcoming local elections did the same.

So while no Russian disillusioned with the country’s rulers has no qualms about voting versus United Russia, many are deeply concerned about who it means they should vote for.

In most cases, these other candidates come from A Just Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), the other three parties represented in the Duma, or Russian parliament. They are known as “systemic opposition” and are widely seen as compromised, helping the authorities maintain a facade of competitiveness in an increasingly authoritarian political configuration.

What do the Russians do if they want change? Some still join the “systemic” parties, hoping to turn them into real opposition forces from within (particularly visible in the case of KPRF). Others vote for Russia’s many extra-parliamentary parties, which are sometimes allowed to run but are seen as less tainted. Older dissidents prefer age-old boycott tactics, freelance journalist Yevgeniya Albats noted in a recent radio debate with Navalny on smart voting. Many Russians simply ignore the spectacle.

Journalist and musician Artemy Troitsky summed up the dilemma well:

The “smart vote” is pragmatic but amoral. “To vote according to your conscience” is noble but unnecessary. Boycotting the elections is good, but your vote could be cast in favor of another candidate. Wasting ballots with obscenities is even better, but it still increases the participation rate… WHAT A CHOICE! What a democracy.

– Artemy Troitsky, Twitter (@aktroitsky) August 28, 2019

It is an unenviable choice. As opposition activist Maxim Katz wrote a telegram on August 14, this could be fundamentally unsolvable. Any attempt to force others to choose, Katz wrote, would only accelerate counterproductive schisms in the opposition.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch who heads the opposition Open Russia Foundation of exile, categorically declared in a Telegram article on Aug. 22, that voting for any candidate who does not publicly denounce the crackdowns and abuses of judicial independence would be an act of treason against protesters and political prisoners.

With respect to systemic opposition, this is a widely shared point of view. Indeed, Boris Vishnevsky, an opposition deputy in St. Petersburg city council, expressed his opposition to smart voting in a column for Novaya Gazeta August 20. Vishnevsky explained that in 2011, “we sent a large number of Communist and ‘just Russia’ deputies to parliament, who quickly became indistinguishable from United Russia and LDPR deputies,” supporting the proposed repressive legislation. by the government. This was even admitted by Leonid Volkov, a close associate of Navalny, who told Meduza in an interview in August that the smart voting campaign would only lead to the election of “a few decent people”, while most of the new parliamentarians would be “a scoundrel”.

If it pays off, “smart voting” could put some of that “scum” in an awkward position. After all, elections in Russia frequently feature “technical candidates,” who contest rigged votes fully expecting to lose. In St. Petersburg, the KPRF named the famous director Vladimir Bortko as a candidate for governor, facing the unpopular Acting Governor Alexander Beglov. When Bortko made a surprise announcement on August 30 that he would be retiring from the race, commentators wondered if he had ever competed to win:

Bortko’s desertion is the best illustration of why we need a smart vote. Even technical candidates fear it. Putin’s allies are so certain of defeat that they cannot even afford the facade of competitiveness.

– Mikhail Svetov, Twitter, August 30, 2019

Given the increasingly bold criticisms by the Communists of Russia’s socio-economic woes, candidates like Bortko were destined to be successful. Political analyst Fedor Krashennikov wrote that smart voting would primarily benefit the KPRF.

“In modern Russian politics, everything is arranged so that it is worse for a systemic actor to win than to lose. [Party leader Gennady] Ziouganov knows that the Communist deputies will remain loyal to him only if they know that their seats were negotiated with the Kremlin and were not handed over to them by Navalny ”, concluded Krashennikov in his report of August 21. column for Vedomosti, a popular Russian newspaper.

The authorities could also simply cancel any unexpected surprises at the ballot box, as they did in the election of the governor of the Primorye region Last September. After KPRF candidate Andrey Ishchenko nearly won the first round of the race to become governor of the Far East region, he was forbidden to contest a second round in December.

Then again, perhaps such a harsh response from the Kremlin is exactly what the Russian opposition is counting on:

For God’s sake, you are all so determined to find fault with smart voting.

Don’t you really understand why it is necessary to accept it?

In order to provoke the authorities into large-scale electoral falsifications, thus drawing attention to these events, finally removing all legitimacy [from them], culminating in protests.

– swetlana chromowskaja, Twitter, Aug 26, 2019


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