From tomorrow morning to Sunday, Russians go to the polls to vote for delegates in the State Duma, the Russian Parliament.
But on the eve of the elections, opposition to vote for is not much left in Russia. Since last summer, the entire opposition movement led by Aleksey Navalny has been disbanded. This has disappeared the real opposition in the country.
And the smaller opposition parties that are still allowed to compete to a place in the State Duma are making it increasingly difficult. Numerous candidates have been removed from the electoral lists across the country in recent months.
That‘s the same in Veliki Novgorod. There, two local candidates were removed from the electoral lists because they had expressed support for the imprisoned Aleksey Navalny in the past, see in this report by correspondent Iris de Graaf:
Analysts also call this the “least free elections since Putin came to power in 2000”. For starters, we can vote for three days this year. People are encouraged to vote online by rewarding them with the chance of big prices such as houses, cars or hundreds of thousands of rubles.
The Russian media has already published several reports about planned fraud or manipulation of the results this week. Also, for the first time, there are virtually no independent observers present this year. Officially all due to corona pandemic restrictions.
In the run-up to these elections, Russia saw a wave of unprecedented repression. Navalny’s movement was labeled extremist and banned this summer – and anyone who had anything to do with it should not take part in these elections. If you have ever been pictured with Navalny, a call to demonstration shared on social media or participated in the protests, participation in these elections is excluded.
Opponents of the authorities were convicted, arrested, imprisoned, chased across the border or removed from the electoral lists. And not just politicians.
Almost all critical and independent media have been labeled a foreign agent in recent months. They are seen as ‘traitors of land’ and lose all advertisers. Activists, lawyers and individual journalists also got the mark.
This has to do with the fact that the United Russia government party has never been more unpopular. According to a recent poll, only about 30% of voters plan to vote for United Russia. But for victory, the party has to get a majority of votes, at least 45 percent. And so the Kremlin doesn‘t want to leave anything to chance.
In addition to removing candidates, the authorities are now tackling the opposition’s last weapon. One of the weaknesses of the Russian opposition is that they have traditionally been very divided and argue more often than working together.
Navalny‘s supporters have been rigging an online system of Smart Voting for the past three years to unite anti-government party voters across Russia. The app calculates which candidate is the most likely to defeat United Russia government party. Just before the ballot boxes open, the voter receives a recommendation for a protest vote in his or her constituency. In previous regional elections, opposition candidates achieved great success with this system locally.
But this system is pretty much disabled by now. The app has been blocked half the time. This week, the authorities banned search engines Yandex and Google from showing results on the search term “Smart Voices”. There are also fake Smart Voting apps in circulation to trick voters. The strategy is: the less the opposition is united, the greater the chance of winning the government party.
Most Russians who correspondent De Graaf spoke, both in Moscow and in the provinces, are not illusions about open and fair elections this year. “It’s hard to be excited about elections whose outcome is largely fixed,” someone says. Another: “I don‘t even know who to vote for, now that so many candidates have been removed” and “Don’t vote or vote, the result is already fixed”.
And that apathy also suits the ruling party. Because it is above all the opposition oriented voters who will stay away from polling stations – discouraged by all repression.