September 20, 2018


In Russia's Far East, a Clumsy Attempt to Steal an Election Backfires: Blatant electoral fraud in the Primorsky Krai gubernatorial election spells trouble for Putin. (Sergey Radchenko, September 21, 2018, The Diplomat)

Russia prides itself on a sophisticated country-wide voting system. Local protocols are fed into the computer network, and are made publicly available, by the polling station, on the Central Election Commission's website. There is thus a degree of transparency in the system, which of course does not prevent the usual practices like the illegal use of administrative resources, carousel voting, and vote buying (all long part and parcel of the Russian electoral process).

But sometimes even the usual practices fall short. Faced with what seemed like an inevitable victory by the opposition candidate, the local election authorities resorted to desperate measures: fabricating protocols. The unfortunate impartiality of the computer system immediately exposed where the fraud took place, with a number of polling station suddenly showing Tarasenko with 95 percent of the vote, and a few registering a staggering 100 percent.

Tarasenko's failure to win the election in the first round, held on September 9, was widely perceived as a setback to Putin and his party, United Russia. Putin's popularity had been sagging for months. Sluggish economic performance and pervasive corruption have eroded the regime's political legitimacy. An unpopular pension reform package caused a swell of protests across Russia. Tarasenko's failure at the polls was a sign, however tentative, of a society awakening from slumber.

Putin hurried to the rescue of his beleaguered candidate. In Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum (held from September 11-13), Putin endorsed Tarasenko's candidacy, telling him that "everything will be fine." The fabrication of election protocols showed that Putin meant what he said. But the crudeness of the fraud beggared belief. Ishchenko called on his supporters to protest, and briefly declared a hunger strike.

Why would anyone falsify the election results in such an incredibly shameless but also incredibly stupid manner? The evidence suggests that the scam was a local initiative, spearheaded by insecure officials who were stunned by what was shaping to be an upset of national magnitude. Local electoral manipulation is not unheard of in Russia. It's the standard in Chechnya, for example. But the fact that fraudulent elections now take place across Russia - from Chechnya to the Far East - is itself a telling reminder of the deep systemic rot.

Embarrassed by the sham, the election authorities ruled on September 19 to invalidate the results and hold new elections. The head of Russia's Central Election Commission, Ella Panfilova, promised to "ruthlessly cancel" any election that occasioned instances of fraud. 

Posted by at September 20, 2018 5:35 PM