Monday, January 24

Russians head to the polls amid anger over the economy and Covid | Russia

Russians will go to the polls starting Friday for parliamentary elections that could serve as a platform for popular anger over the economy, a crackdown on dissent and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. But the ruling United Russia party is likely to find a way to maintain absolute dominance over its control of the State Duma.

While stifling political opposition and independent media, the Kremlin is trying to solve a simple mathematical problem: How can it shore up the numbers for United Russia, which is hitting near-record lows, without sparking the kinds of protests that broke out widely? crude election fraud incidents in 2011.

Ahead of the vote, which will take place over three days, there has been growing support for the Communist Party, while another opposition behind Alexei Navalny, the jailed Kremlin critic, has sought to consolidate itself through an effort of “smart voting. “which mainly identified the communist candidates. as the strongest challengers.

“There are many people who are unhappy,” said Anastasia Bryukhanova, an independent candidate from one of the country’s most oppositional districts in northwest Moscow. “The biggest problem remains the lack of faith in our own power, the lack of faith in the elections themselves. The biggest battle is to get people to the electoral college and at least try to resist ”.

The Communist Party of Russia has seen its polls rise above 19% in recent weeks, largely due to stagnant wages and rising prices. It has also tried to broaden its appeal, bringing in younger candidates from the party’s youth wing or nominating outsiders in first-after-post (FPTP) voting in local districts.

But the party has often aligned itself with United Russia and is still led by the same leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who ran against Boris Yeltsin in 1996. While he opposed Vladimir Putin’s proposal to renew his presidential terms during the referendum last year’s constitutional constitution, it has often ridiculed itself as a “pocket opposition.”

“A lot of people say that, in their opinion, the leadership of the Communist Party is often compromised … they don’t trust them,” Mikhail Lobanov, a party candidate in a western Moscow district, said in a television interview this morning. week. “I think that the Communist Party and its leadership should change: it should become more radical, more decisive. Don’t give in to pressure. And then he can return the support of the people who have turned away from him. “

United Russia, meanwhile, has seen its support hit rock bottom, with less than 30% of Russians telling state pollsters that they would vote for the ruling party. To maintain its current constitutional majority (it has 336 out of 450 deputies in the current Duma), the party will rely on winning FPTP districts, an election format that has been expanded in recent years to 225 out of 450 open Duma seats.

In Moscow, United Russia has put forward candidates from grassroots grassroots initiatives, such as the nonprofit search and rescue organization Liza Alert, to attract votes. Putin also approved giving cash to families and members of the military ahead of the vote, and local governments are offering prizes like new apartments, cars and gift certificates to those who register to vote online.

The main opponents of the government have been jailed, disqualified or expelled from the country, including Dmitry Gudkov, a former member of the Duma. He has also tried to split the opposition vote, in some cases featuring doppelgangers who can siphon off valuable votes in close contests. Two opponents of Boris Vishnevsky, a veteran St. Petersburg lawmaker critical of the Kremlin, even changed their names and appearances to mislead voters on the ballot. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said in an interview.

Past votes, particularly in 2011, have been marred by ballot fillings and other crude efforts to achieve not just a United Russia victory, but a landslide victory for the ruling party. The biggest change in voting this year is that it will take place over three days and also online, which maximizes turnout and makes it extremely difficult to confirm that the number of ballots matches the number of voters. Golos, an electoral NGO that has been appointed a foreign agent by the Russian government, has said that only 50% of the country’s precincts will have independent monitors.

When all else fails, United Russia will hope that opposition infighting will split the protest vote and give victory to a friendly candidate.

Bryukhanova, a rare independent on the ballot in Russia, was recently backed by Navalny’s smart voting scheme, rejecting another liberal candidate from the established, if somewhat ineffective party, Yabloko.

“I think the decision in our district was a big mistake,” wrote Marina Litvinovich, his opponent. But it would be a mistake to decide [voters]. If you want to support “smart voting,” vote for the candidate you suggest. If you want to support me, vote as your heart tells you. “

Those who succeed will find themselves outmatched in the Duma. But Bryukhanova said it was worth it. “First of all, it’s about symbolism. To show that it is possible. To show that a politician like me with my views … can win in these elections, even with all his violations.

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