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Russia

Apathy The Main Winner As Low Turnout Mars Moscow Vote

Candidates Navalny, Sobyanin Cast Votesi
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September 08, 2013
As Moscow residents vote in the city's mayoral election, the two main candidates, opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and Kremlin-backed incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, have each appeared at the polls to cast their ballots. (Reuters)

WATCH: Moscow Mayoral Candidates Aleksei Navalny and Sergei Sobyanin Cast Their Votes

By Robert Coalson and Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW -- Opposition Moscow mayoral candidate Aleksei Navalny has said from the beginning that apathy was his main opponent.

As polls closed, however, turnout was only around 30 percent according to election officials, indicating that Navalny's energetic campaign and the mere prospect of Moscow's first mayoral poll in nearly a decade have failed to break down the indifference of a public jaded by years of noncompetitive elections that have been plagued by allegations of vote rigging.

A Moscow corporate events manager who asked to be identified only as Masha told RFE/RL she was spending Sunday in the park with her daughter instead of going to the polls.

"Even if you go and take your ballot and vote, it will change nothing," she said. "I think that the position of many citizens, Muscovites like me, is not to waste their time. Many live in different places to where they are registered, which means driving to the polling station for people like me. It's a shame to give your Sunday to this. I prefer to go to the park with my child."

Sitting on a park bench with one-month-old Emma sleeping in a pram, Masha, 35, compared the vote on September 8 with the March 2011 presidential election that returned Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.

"It's just the same as the presidential elections -- we really can't change anything," she said. "We have to have a revolution, in the good sense, if we want to talk about [change]."

At the polling station where Putin cast his ballot, only 50 of more than 1,000 registered voters had voted as of midday, according to Interfax.

Victory For The Status Quo

Low voter turnout is widely seen as a victory for the status quo -- in this case for Kremlin-backed acting Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, according to St. Petersburg political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov.

"In general, a lower turnout is considered to be advantageous for the authorities since pensioners taking part in the elections are more disciplined and loyal to the authorities," he said. "It's another matter that the Moscow information is contradictory, and there is not yet clarity as to what extent pensioners are voting or whether there is the possibility of a schism among them."

LIVEBLOG: Russia's Regional Elections

It also offers the authorities expanded opportunities to falsify results -- past elections have often shown a mysterious uptick in voting at the last minute with the majority of late votes going to the ruling-party candidate.

Navalny campaign manager Leonid Volkov told Dozhd TV that the campaign is also worried about falsification from so-called mobile polling stations -- ballot boxes taken around by election officials to enable the elderly and others to vote from home.

"We see two problem areas," he said. "First, it's a low turnout. According to how the voting trend is playing out, the turnout could be predicted at about 40-45 percent. This is very small, of course. Even regardless of how the turnout influences the number of votes cast for one or the other candidate, this is shamefully little. Second, we are seriously worried about the situation regarding home-based voting."

Navalny's campaign issued a press release late in the voting, warning observers to be especially vigilant as polling came to an end.

Carte Blanche For More Repression?

Russian social media featured reports indicating that some authorities may have intentionally tried to reduce turnout. Muscovite Arina Borodina reported on Facebook that when she arrived at the polling station where she has always voted, she was directed to another polling station that she found with difficulty some distance away. Looking at the voter register, she reported seeing only one other signature from among the residents of her building.

Borodina's post prompted responses from a handful of other Muscovites reporting similar experiences.

Vera Kichanova, a Moscow municipal deputy from the small Libertarian Party, posted on Facebook that signs hung in her building instructed voters to go to a particular polling station but that when she arrived she was told to go to another polling station "at the other end of the district."

At the same time, Navalny posted a blog post urging his supporters to come to the polls, noting that with low turnout each vote carries more weight and saying that an additional 100,000 votes for him late in the day could be enough to force a second round of voting.

In one of his last campaign blog posts before the election, Navalny wrote that if he received more than 1 million votes, "the regime would have to reject the idea of a police state and begin conducting a more flexible policy." On the other hand, he wrote, if he polls less than half a million votes, it will mean "carte blanche for further repression."

Opposition political analyst Ksenia Sobchak posted desperately on Twitter: "How, tell me, how can we conquer your indifference?"

Robert Coalson

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