Rocking the vote? The opposition’s elections have been labeled a ‘toy project’ ­ but proved to be colorful

Arm and Torso of Person in Brown Sweater Placing Paper Ballot into Ballot Box

(Moscow News – themoscownews.com – Yulia Ponomareva – October 22, 2012)

In contrast with official polls, the transparency of the elections to the opposition’s coordination council has not been questioned by watchdogs ­ and this is beside the fact that all of the candidates faced off in televised debates. The results, however, will have little if any practical effect ­ their sole purpose was to elect a council to steer the flagging protest movement that started last December when over 100,000 people took to the streets of Moscow and other cities in protest against voter fraud.

Over the past months, several opposition rallies took place, but none were as big as those held last December. As the protest movement was running out of steam, its informal leaders had to come up with an idea to boost it.

Repeatedly reproached for offering no agenda aside from chanting “Down with Putin,” the leaders announced the elections in the summer. “We need a formal body to steer the informal political protest,” the campaign’s mastermind and one of the top candidates, Alexei Navalny, stated then.

A ‘toy project’

Some have wondered whether protest activities need coordination at all. “The coordination council’s function isn’t quite clear to me but something must be done,” said Dmitry, a middle-aged programmer, who Saturday afternoon came to one of the seven polling stations in Moscow, on Trubnaya Ploshchad. Dmitry is one of the 170,000 people that registered for voting in a country where there are some 109 million people eligible to vote.

“Given the number of people registered this is a parochial, toy project,” United Russia member Sergei Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the State Duma, said Sunday night at the Gosdep 3 show on Dozhd TV, a privately owned cable channel that had broadcast the debates live.

A certain number of people were deterred by the two-stage identity verification procedure that involved online operations. Leonid Volkov, the head of the opposition’s election committee, which also includes Yandex founder Ilya Segalovich, deputy head of the Golos election watchdog Grigory Melkonyants and others, admitted in an interview with Finam FM in early October that some could have found the registration procedure too complicated.

“We chose between the following: either 100,000 verified voters or a million bots,” he said. “We decided that the voting of 100,000 voters is a serious, weighty and legitimate thing.” He added that the technology is yet to be improved.

Mavrodi muddle

The voting could have been compromised by members of Sergei Mavrodi’s notorious MMM pyramid. Sixty-four MMM members registered as candidates, but later withdrew their candidacies and accused Volkov of swindling them out of 10,000 rubles, which was the amount of the participation fee.

Another 20,000 MMM members attempted to take part in the elections as voters.

Finally, on Saturday Volkov and his team had to deal a denial-of-service attack of their election servers.

Favorites and surprises

The voters could choose among over 200 candidates competing for 45 seats in the council. The leftists, liberals and nationalists will each receive five seats in the council.

Thirty seats were designated for candidates on the so-called general list, which featured the election’s absolute favorite Navalny, environmentalist Yevgenia Chirikova, writer Dmitry Bykov, journalist Oleg Kashin, as well as less recognizable names, such as biologist Mikhail Gelfand, who surprisingly scored more points in the debates finals than even TV celebrity Ksenia Sobchak.

The parliamentary opposition has abstained from these elections. Only three Just Russia members, Dmitry Gudkov, Gennady Gudkov and Ilya Ponomaryov, stood for election. Ponomaryov later stepped down, stating that, “No formal structure should lead to spurring tensions in opposition.” His party chief Sergei Mironov said in an official statement that, “Coordination of well-organized and really strong opposition parties is more important today.”

Vladimir Ryzhkov, the leader of the RPR-Parnas party, wrote in his blog that, “Rivalry will only split the protest movement.” Ryzhkov instead focused on official local elections held across the country on October 14. His party polled 5 percent in his home town of Barnaul. This will be translated into one mandate in the local legislature.

Meanwhile, the October 14 elections secured United Russia’s dominance in regional parliaments among waning interest in elections and fraud allegations. Meager turnout of just 26 percent at elections to municipal legislatures and 46 percent at the gubernatorial elections was reported.

Polling stations were fully covered by monitors only in Khimki, where Chirikova ran for the mayor’s seat but lost to Governor Sergei Shoigu’s nominee, Oleg Shakhov. None of the rest coordination council candidates participated in the official elections.