By Vladimir V. Kara-Murza
NOVOYE DEVYATKINO, Russia — The most popular political myths of Vladimir Putin’s regime, too often uncritically repeated by Western commentators—that Putin and his United Russia party are “supported by the vast majority of Russians” and that the opposition is “weak” and “unpopular”—are rarely tested, since most of the time Kremlin opponents are barred from the ballot. Last Sunday offered a rare glimpse into the actual opinions of Russian voters.
On March 22nd, Novoye Devyatkino, a municipality north of St. Petersburg that has been referred to as “Russia’s New Hampshire” because its voting trends usually match the national ones, held a special legislative election. Uncharacteristically, a wide spectrum of candidates were allowed on the ballot, including Sergei Kuzin, the St. Petersburg coordinator of Open Russia, the pro-democracy movement established by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and member of the People’s Freedom Party, founded by the slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.
On election day, Kuzin achieved a landslide victory: 52 percent of the vote to 21 percent for Angelina Ovchinina, the candidate of Putin’s United Russia party. But results from “early voting”—nearly half of the total turnout—gave United Russia an astounding 98 percent, and Ovchinina was officially declared the winner.
Since the mass street protests against election fraud in 2011 and 2012, “early voting” has replaced the more blatant rewriting of voting protocols as the regime’s favored method of achieving the desired results. The “early” ballots are stored at the electoral commissions, outside of the control of independent poll monitors. It is sufficient to coerce enough state-dependent employees and pensioners to vote early; whom they vote for does not matter—the ballots can be replaced at any time.
Election results in Novoye Devyatkino are more proof (if it was needed) that Putin’s regime is founded on fraud and coercion, not the free will of Russian citizens. The Kremlin likes to accuse its opponents of preparing a Ukrainian-style Maidan revolution. The instigators of a Russian Maidan, however, will be those who continue to treat Russian citizens with contempt by stealing their votes and usurping their will.
Kremlin Election Fraud Revealed. Again.