In Brief

Russia’s elections: a triumph for stage-managed ‘democracy’

Kremlin candidates were declared the winners in all of Moscow’s 15 districts

The Kremlin had ensured that “nothing could go wrong” with last week’s parliamentary elections, said Christian F. Trippe in Deutsche Welle (Bonn). Putin’s Russia is a “managed democracy”, as one of his advisers once put it, and the script for this event had been written long ago.

Hundreds of opposition politicians had been banned from standing. Independent observers were barred and independent media blocked. Search engines were forced to remove results for “smart voting” – a tactical voting strategy designed by the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny to find the candidate most likely to defeat the pro-Kremlin United Russia. In St Petersburg, one promising liberal candidate even found himself up against two fake candidates bearing his own name.

Even so, with inflation high and poverty on the rise, it seemed that United Russia might lose ground, said Felix Light in The Moscow Times – until the Kremlin’s new electronic voting system came into play. In Moscow, early leads for opposition candidates began to vanish as “votes” cast online were totted up.

The next day, Kremlin candidates were declared the winners in all of the capital’s 15 districts, clinching United Russia close to 50% of the vote and a two-thirds majority in the Duma, the parliament. The Communists, the second largest party, with around 20% of the vote, refused to recognise the electronic results. In St Petersburg, the cheating was less “hi-tech”. “Observers were dragged out of polling stations,” said The Economist.

Polls suggested that, nationally, United Russia had around 30% support; and in areas where the vote was difficult to rig, such as the Urals and Siberia, the results bore that out. In some, “the Communists actually won”.

But in general, the opposition was effectively managed, said Konstantin Eggert on Echo of Moscow. Kremlin strategists explained why United Russia had “actually defeated everyone” again. The old faces were back, along with a few new faces, such as the “fictitious” New People party, a pro-Putin group set up with Kremlin help, so that the powers that be can say to the urban middle classes: “What are you dissatisfied with? Here are your representatives!”

Ten years ago, Russian society was lively and pluralistic, said Frank Nienhuysen in Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich). There were protests, “satire was back in vogue”, and newspapers “surprised”. Today “apathy and powerlessness” rule. “Hardly anyone in Russia is still making a fuss about the fact that the election was obviously rigged in so many ways.”

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