Saturday, August 13

Three almost identical Boris Vishnevskys on the St. Petersburg ballot | Russia

Russian opposition politicians are used to finding spoofing candidates with identical last names against them to confuse voters at the polls. Now it seems that the copycats are also changing their faces.

That’s what Boris Vishnevsky, a high-ranking member of the liberal Yabloko party, faces in his St. Petersburg district ahead of municipal elections later this month.

Vishnevsky already knew that two of his opponents had changed their names to also be called Boris Vishnevsky, an update on the common tactic of nominating a “double” to split the vote and hand the victory to another candidate.

But when a district voting poster was unveiled on Sunday, it showed something far more shocking: three almost indistinguishable Boris Vishnevskys, all bald, gray-haired and with matching goatee. As a friend of Vishnevsky’s on Facebook pointed out, the easiest way to spot the real Vishnevsky is that he was the only one who bothered to wear a tie.

“All of this is done to mislead the voters, so that they mistake the fake for the real, and instead of the real Vishnevsky vote for one of the fake,” the real Vishnevsky said in an interview. The fake, or at least newer, Vishnevskys could not be immediately reached for comment.

Vishnevsky’s opponents had grown beards and mustaches for photographs and may have also sent Photoshopped images to the election commission, Vishnevsky said. It also appears that at least one of the candidates had either shaved his head or digitally altered the hairline for photography.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vishnevsky said. Earlier, he called the “doppelgänger” tactics “political fraud.”

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It is believed that at least one of Vishnevsky’s opponents, who until recently was named Viktor Bykov, changed his appearance considerably for photographs. In an official photograph used on a St. Petersburg government websiteBykov’s head was full of hair and he looked years younger than the photograph presented to the electoral commission.

Bykov’s identity was first revealed by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazetaand a St. Petersburg news website published later a screenshot of a document that allegedly showed that he changed his name on July 3. The election poster, published by Vishnevsky, confirms that one of his opponents was previously named Viktor Bykov.

Less is known about the other opponent, who was previously named Alexei Shmelev and was reported to be a sales manager at a St. Petersburg company. None of Vishnevsky’s opponents have publicly campaigned or made public appearances. Until this week, it wasn’t clear what they looked like, and it’s still not entirely clear.

Vishnevsky said he was unaware of the men’s motivations for competing against him, but said: “I don’t think they have agreed to embarrass themselves like this for free.”

The “double” candidates appear regularly during Russia’s election cycles, which can be surprisingly fierce despite the expectation that the ruling United Russia party will retain the majority in the Duma. The rising wave of opposition to United Russia and growing support for the communist KPRF have apparently spooked the government and the nomination of doppelgängers can siphon off precious votes in close contests.

Meduza news outlet reported last week that doppelgänger candidates were running for the Duma. in at least three districts of Moscow, especially against communists with great chances at the polls.

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But the campaign against Vishnevsky stands out because his opponents legally changed their names (although the candidates still have different patronyms, middle names that are usually assigned to Russian children based on the father’s name), because there are two doubles instead of just one. and, of course, because the men had engaged in political disguise to derail the vote.

“Every time there are elections we say that these are the dirtiest elections ever,” Vishnevsky said, when asked about how this campaign compares to the past. “I am sure that we will also say the same in the next elections.”

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