Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Russia reinvented the solution for low election turnover problem

It seems I might have discovered workable solution for a problem, which has been one of the most troubling for the politicians and election officials in Russia: low voters' turnover at the elections.

Indeed, although the turnover in Russia's latest parliament elections was an improvement over the previous record with some 63% of people showing at the poll stations, the overall worry remains and the optimistic remarks by the election officials don't sound convincing.

The problem with low turnover is a serious one. In Russia low turnover is generally considered a form of opposition or at least a sign of lack of support for the system, for the ruling elite or for the state as whole (for example see this opinion in Russian language). Non-showing voter is considered a voter not simply uninterested, but potentially not trusting the system. That's why enourmous measures to attract voters are normally applied. The December 2007 parliament elections were perhaps outstanding in the amount of measures they demanded.

This year measures included following activities at and around polling stations (see for example this overview in Russian):
  • opening full size grocery shops with state-subsidized goods, at the locations;
  • "free presentations" of food stuffs, such as sausages, breads and dairy products, right there;
  • lotteries with main prizes, including new cars. The particular approach is reported in Tyumen region. You probably never heard of this county and frankly I am not sure about spelling it correctly, but I've got a reasonable feeling it is likely to be at least the size of France.
The most thorough are the former mining region of Kuzbas and the city of Kemerovo, where medical doctors, lawyers, hair dressers, free nightclub tickets and even.. circus and gynecologists were offered free of charge (see this news in Russian). Some of the doctors listed are reported to have been stationed, with their medical equipment, right at the spot where the people express their will; while the others were placed on hold in the local clinics, including those to examine female intimate body parts, provided they have voting receipt intact.

Even the homeless were cared for by the local administration with an unseen warmth as they were fed and transported to the polls in Moscow, the sources tell.

The media, including Newsru.com says that city of Kemerovo (520 thousand inhabitants) in central Russia beat the competition as the local administration managed to administer to the people about 3000 different mass events, starting with local professional and amateur theater performers and ending with free passes to the parties in karaoke, sport, night and other clubs in the city.

Historically, however, Russia has not always been so troubled by the low voting activity problem. Let's take a look at the experience of the Soviet Baltic republics, in particular the success of the 1940 elections in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (see this Wikipedia source in English), in particular in Latvia:

# July 5, 1940 - Decree issued announcing new elections; the Latvian democratic parties organize under the National Committee and attempt to participate.
# July 9, 1940 - Vilis Lācis, the Soviet-appointed Minister of Internal Affairs, orders the National Committee shut down, its most prominent members deported. Deportations are already taking place from territory not (yet) part of the Soviet Union.
# July 14-15, 1940 - Rigged elections held in Latvia and the other Baltic states. Only one pre-approved list of candidates was allowed for elections for the Latvian parliament, the Saeima.[5] The ballots held following instructions: "Only the list of the Latvian Working People's Bloc must be deposited in the ballot box. The ballot must be deposited without any changes." The alleged voter activity index was 97.6%. Most notably, the complete election results were published in Moscow 12 hours before the election closed. Soviet electoral documents found later substantiated that the results were completely fabricated.

This example is applicable today not only because official Russia still considers the 1940 "elections", including 9 days of "campaigning" under the guns of tens of thousands of Red Army fanatics valid, but, in fact, similar techniques are applied today. The "surprise" of this years' election was not Lartvia, but the Chechen Republic in Southern Russia, where 98,2% participation was achieved (this is official, see here or in English here). Indeed, only 0,8% of the registered electors were not able to participate, perhaps mortally ill. This particular number is better than even in the Baltics in 1940, when Stalin was el presidento, though in Russia as whole the turnover was only 63%. Chechnya, however, is the republic where members of Russian military personnel are killed almost daily. Chechen Kremlin-appointed leader Roman the Executioner (also known as Kadyrov the Younger) explained this miracle simply by existence of "strong civic position" among those subjected to his rule, without blinking an eye.

Have their family members gone "voting" too? Human Rights Watch protograph.

So what is the recipe for high electoral activity in Russia? The turnover seems stronger in proportion of the number of troops stationed in the country as well as in proportion to the European Courts rulings on the cases of murder, rape and robbery, add "mass" where necessary. Chechnya has hundreds if not thousands of cases pending before the Strasbourg court, on war crimes perpetrated by the Kremlin troops and paramilitaries in that tiny republic. So far only about a dozen of such cases reached a formal verdict, but the share of upheld complaints has, to my knowledge, so far been 100%. So when I say "murder", "rape" or "robbery" it is in fact quite motionless and as close to a mere legal assessment as it can get.

In the light of Kremlin plans to set up "a body to monitor human rights abuses" in the Western Europe (it is serious, see here), I dare to speculate that Russia is increasingly getting ready to export "democracy", so well working in parts of her own territory. Just in case. Already Russians seem to be implementing similar plans in the stubbornly independent former USSR Republic of Georgia, where Kremlin oligarchs are financing the opposition to the government of that country. If or when the time is right, this re-born Russia-Soviet democracy can be offered to other countries, including yours and mine, with the successes of 1940 in mind.

The following assumption may seem to be too far going, but looking at the results of Chechnya I can't honestly make go away the thought that murder, rape and robbery are the Russian recipe for "democracy".

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