In autumn 2021 this year one of the most ‘democratic’ countries of the world holds nationwide elections. Russian citizens will elect the deputies of the State Duma, main Russian legislative body, of the eighth session. Meanwhile, Russian Central Electoral Commission has already set the procedure which prescribes the elections to be held between 17th and 19th of September.
In contrast to the previous election campaigns, when Russian authorities actively used the TV to create false reality, while reporting particular events and silencing the others, fabricating ‘pseudo-events’ to misrepresent the truth, the television broadcast does not play the first fiddle in informing and propaganda anymore - a key feature of Russian election campaign of the current year. Undoubtedly, the influence of the TV will not rapidly disappear, however, the picture describing of more than 50% of the voters using primarily internet may considerably influence the results. For the ruling party Edinaya Rossiya (United Russia), which loses its popularity ratings, the situation in general can not be described as an easy one. The authorities are trying to control rigidly the electoral process. Thus, the result the Kremlin is eager to reach is still not promised - the Kremlin does not feel confident about the definite victory of Edinaya Rossiya party in the forthcoming elections.
Since the party has come to power, any electoral process which takes place in Russia is characterized by numerous issues which sow the reasons for uncomfortable discourse on the violations of democratic process and the legitimacy of the results. Consequently, the authorities take all possible actions to lead the ruling party to victory and simultaneously deceive the society into the transparency of the democratic process.
The new and already known technologies
First, huge efforts will be taken to fight the ‘smart voting’ strategy developed by the associates of the opposition politician Alexei Navalny in 2019. The strategy aims to destroy the monopoly of Edinaya Rossiya party in the legislative bodies at all the levels. Russian authorities will take efforts to create the clones of the original web site, entitled ‘The smart voice’, with minor changes, and bots in Telegram and WhatsApp under the same title and very similar to original bots of Navalny’s ‘smart strategy’. As well, prepared polls will be applied in particular way to shape voters’ opinion and impose candidacies which differ from those promoted by the supporters of ‘smart voting’ strategy.
Second, to their advantage, the authorities will use new a tool - the electronic voting system. Russia adopted two systems of remote electronic voting. Both decisions run on blockchain platforms. No country had ever held online voting of such a scale that is planned in Russia for September. The electronic voting will be held in the cities with population of no less than millions of people and six more regions chosen by Russian Central Electoral Commission, but not on the whole territory of the country - a remarkable feature of Russian voting variant. The authorities explain: the system now is only being tested. However, the experts believe the Central Electoral Commission will use electronic voting in those regions where the results are not expected to be optimistic for Edinaya Rossia so they will be predictably corrected in favor of the ruling party. Moreover, currently the system does not allow the observers to ensure it operates correct.
Third, Russian government will use the beloved tool of state apparatus - a strong pressure on public employees and officials, a tool which has been already put on high alert in May, when groups of people mentioned above were forced to participate in Edinaya Rossiya primaries. During the procedure, the authorities involved public employees to sign up the governmental portal Gosuslugi, while allowing the permission to personal data, and vote in favour of particular candidacies on the web site of Edinaya Rossiya. The heads of state-owned entities put pressure on employees threatening to dismiss them or cut salaries, unless the employees agree to participate in the primaries and provide screenshots with filled ballot. The employees were forced to involve relatives, kindergarten teachers had to engage parents. Public employees mainly received messages via WhatsApp, provided information on the candidacies the voters were obliged to give their support. In fact, any employee could have refused, however, if so, the punitive damages would follow the rejection.
Forth, one of the features of the forthcoming elections in Russia is the opening of fake criminal proceedings against the representatives of Russian opposition. The opposition representative and the former deputy of the State Duma of the sixth convocation Dimitry Gudkov has recently claimed he negotiated the possibility to ballot from Yabloko party. His initiative was followed by criminal case against him (Gudkov) and his aunt Irina Yermilova allegedly on the charge of the financial damage to the Moscow property office - a non-payment of 1 million rubles of debt in 2015-2017. Dimitry Gudkov had to flee Russia to the capital of neighbouring Ukraine.
”Several individuals, close to the Presidential office, informed me that if I stay in the country, fake criminal proceeding will be continued till my arrest. If I stay, the permission was given to resolve the Gudkov issue by ‘any means’,” the politician commented.
Fifth, many potential candidates, as well as those who already have been running the elections, are discredited as extremists, ‘foreign agents’ or their accomplices. To make the process easier, the State Duma has adopted a law on the temporary ban on the participation of individuals connected with extremist or terrorist organizations in the elections. The law has the force even if an organization is claimed to be a terrorist one post factum. In this way, the heads of such organizations will be denied a right to run elections for a five-year period; and ordinary employees - including those who provided the organization with any kind of support – will be prohibited from the participation in the elections for three years. The ban will affect individuals the court found guilty of the participation in an extremist or terrorist organization. The founders and people in charge of such organizations will be denied the permission to participate in elections with no need of court ruling.
Russian organization Golos claimed that this law denies a right to run elections no less than 9 million Russian citizens. The restrictive measures affect people who are connected (or provided financial, public support) with the entities affiliated with the Kremlin critic Navalny. The issue was mentioned by Golos in its report “The new deprived ones: why Russian citizens are massively hit in their right to be elected in 2021″. In this way, the former coordinator of Navalny’s campaign office in Arkhangelsk oblast Andrei Borovikov was prohibited to run elections. At the same time the European Court of Human Rights considers the non-differentiated restriction of a group of people of their electoral rights as violation of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which came into effect in 1953.