Among the spate of elections this autumn – from Norway, just completed, to Canada, just ahead, to Germany in 10 days’ time – the elections in Russia this weekend have been somewhat neglected outside those who watch the country closely. Nor is the flurry of electoral activity elsewhere the only reason. There are plenty of others.
One is that these are not leadership elections, as such. They are elections to the parliament, or Duma, which is widely and sometimes wrongly regarded as little more than a rubber stamp for the Kremlin. Thus Vladimir Putin’s future is not at stake, at least not directly; his current presidential term has another three years to run. Nor is there a candidate for outsiders to latch on to. Alexei Navalny, the one effective and charismatic politician who attracts interest outside Russia, is in a prison camp for a conviction described by the Council of Europe as “arbitrary and unreasonable”; many of his immediate team have left the country and many of his activists have been arrested.
There are also the perennial questions that arise with every Russian election: how far is the vote a genuine reflection of the popular will; how far will the elections be anything like free and fair, and how might they be rigged in the myriad ways that votes can be rigged, from fixing the nominations to manipulating the count? Underlying everything is the widespread assumption that the outcome is fore-ordained, and that one way or another the pro-Putin party, United Russia, will keep its majority; the whole process is just a charade.
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