Elections start today in Russia. Russians have three days to vote for a new parliament. Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party now has a supermajority, and the president is keen to keep it.
To this end, the regime pulls out all the stops, such as ballot box fraud, sham opposition and doppelgängers.
An example: when he looked at the list of candidates, Boris Vishnevsky was shocked. Two look-alikes were standing next to him on the ballot. Same last name, same look. “They have high regard for me. They can only fight me in this way,” Vishnevsky told Russian media.
Those look-alikes are a trick: the authorities place a doppelganger next to an opposition candidate to confuse the critical voter. As a result, some of the voters will accidentally vote for the counterpart. In this way, valuable votes are lost for the actual candidate.
Vishnevsky is also participating on behalf of a liberal party (‘Jabloko’, or ‘the Apple’) that the Kremlin tolerates. The genuine opposition, in the person of Alexei Navalny, is behind bars.
Navalny should have been dead long before the Kremlin: last year, he survived an assassination attempt with the nerve agent novichok. Now Navalny has to watch from the cell how his organization is dissolved. Legally, Navalny’s organization has been declared a ‘terror group’ and thus equated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Therefore, the real opposition is considerably hindered, but there are opposition parties that stand a good chance of entering the Duma, the Russian parliament. It concerns the communists, the right-wing nationalists and a party of a friend of Putin.
“These three parties are seen as sham opposition: they sometimes provide some criticism, but when push comes to shove, they support Putin’s course,” said Russia correspondent Eva Hartog. “Their only job is to make Russian politics seem a bit democratic.”
Not only is the opposition eliminated, but the Russian authorities are also making it increasingly difficult to obtain objective information.
Take the press. Russia does have independent media, but they are now declared ‘undesirable’ or branded as ‘foreign agents’. The latter is not just an insult; the media must state in capital letters with every message that they are a foreign agent, something that scares the already scarce advertisers away. Also, they have to disclose every ruble of income and expenses every quarter, which is a huge administrative burden.