While the overall outcome of Russia's State Duma elections came as no surprise -- the ruling United Russia party won at least 343 of the 450 mandates -- variations in the conduct of the election campaign, voter turnout, and results in the North Caucasus underscored the very real differences between its various republics in terms of political culture and the potential for an opposition candidate to win election.
At the same time, the consistently high level of support registered for United Russia in simultaneous parliamentary elections in several North Caucasus republics has been attributed to a combination of intimidation and flagrant procedural violations.
Of the 450 members of the new State Duma, half were elected in single-mandate constituencies nationwide and half on the basis of party lists.
Daghestan, the largest North Caucasus republic, encompasses three single-mandate constituencies, while the other six republics (Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Adygheya) have one each. Predictably, United Russia swept the board. (The reported winner in Adyghea, Vladislav Reznik, ran as an independent but is listed as a member of United Russia's faction in the outgoing Duma.)
That impressive showing for United Russia appears to have been achieved, however, partly by either refusing to register respected potential candidates who might have posed real competition (human rights campaigner Maksim Shevchenko in Daghestan, businessman Aly Totorkulov in Karachayevo-Cherkessia,and Murat Aguzarov, twin brother of deceased republic head Tamerlan Aguzarov,in North Ossetia) or pressuring them at the last minute to withdraw their candidacies (Sazhid Sazhidov, the coach of Daghestan's wrestling team), and partly by widespread violations such as multiple voting and ballot stuffing.
And the re-election of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's cousin Adam Delimkhanov with 93 percent of the vote should be contrasted with the modest 53 percent garnered in Karachayevo-Cherkessia by United Russia candidate Rasul Botashev. It has been suggested that many people who would have voted for Totorkulov had he been permitted to run voted instead for Communists of Russia candidate Eduard Marshankulov, who garnered some 1,500 votes more than Botashev in Cherkessk, the republic's capital.
The party-list vote showed a more nuanced variation in voter preferences, reflecting the number of political parties participating. But the percentage of the party-list vote that United Russia garnered across the North Caucasus was consistently higher than the nationwide figure of 54.28 percent, ranging from 96.15 percent in Chechnya, 90.11 percent in Kabardino-Balkaria, and 88.86 percent in Daghestan, to 75.9 percent in Ingushetia and 62 percent in Adygheya.Those figures may reflect falsification by the republican authorities in a bid to curry favor with Moscow by demonstrating the extent of popular support for Kremlin policy.
Voter turnout in the State Duma ballot likewise varied considerably across the North Caucasus, but none of the republics duplicated the nationwide decline of around one-fifth. (Participation in the Russian Federation as a whole was just 47.81 percent, dipping below 50 percent for the first time. In 2011, turnout was 60.21 percent, and in 2007 63.78 percent.)Indeed, the reported 86.87 percent turnout in Daghestan was higher than in 2011 (81.1 percent).
Chechnya, predictably, boasted the highest turnout figure (94.79 percent) compared with the 90 percent that Kadyrov had predicted. But the news portal Caucasus Knot quoted individual Chechen voters who -- on the basis of the number of ballot papers visible in transparent ballot boxes just two hours before the polls closed -- estimated the true figure at the polling station where they had voted as being far lower, possibly not exceeding 10 percent. (Chechens were also under pressure to vote for a third term for Kadyrov as republic head; according to the official returns, he garnered 97.94 percent of the vote.)
'Legitimizing A Farce'
Albert Esedov, who heads the opposition party Yabloko's Daghestan chapter, similarly calculated that actual turnout was no higher than 25 percent. That suggests that many voters in Chechnya and Daghestan share the opinion of the Daghestani lawyer who told Shevchenko's website kavpolit.com that "by actually going to vote we are bestowing legitimacy on this farce."
The results of the elections for new republican parliaments held concurrently in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan and Adygheya largely duplicated those for the State Duma in terms of the level of support for United Russia. In Chechnya, where the level of support for United Russia is routinely inflated far beyond the bounds of the statistically plausible, it was said to have garnered 87.6 percent of the vote, which translated into 37 of the 41 parliamentary mandates; A Just Russia 5.63 percent; and the Communist Party 5.31 percent. Those two parties will thus each have two mandates. Curiously, the Party of Patriots which surpassed the 5 percent minimum required for parliamentary representation in 2014 received only 1.34 percent of the vote this time around.
In Ingushetia, United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) received respectively 75.95 percent, 7.96 percent, 5.13 percent, and 5.01 percent. In Daghestan, United Russia received 75.5 percent (72 mandates), A Just Russia 10.45 percent (10 mandates) and the Communist Party 9.14 percent (eight mandates).The outcome would no doubt have been different had the People Against Corruption party established six months ago, which analysts predicted could attract many disaffected voters, not pulled out of the ballot in July "with regret," citing pressure on its candidates. Rodina's Daghestan chapter followed suit a week later, narrowing still further the options for voters who categorically reject United Russia.
Adygheya proved the exception, with just 58.31 percent for United Russia, 15.3 percent for the Communist Party, 14.09 percent for the LDPR, and 7.15 percent for A Just Russia.
Opposition politicians, journalists, and independent analysts are all convinced that the officially promulgated results of both the State Duma and the parliamentary ballots (and of local elections in some municipalities) are the product of blatant procedural violations, and do not accurately reflect the number of actual votes cast for any given candidate or political party. Evidence of such violations has been chronicled most extensively in Daghestan; by contrast, officials in Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia all claimed that infringements were either non-existent or negligible.
Initially, some Internet providers sought to block access in Daghestan to the websites of the weekly Chernovik and a second independent paper, Novoe Delo, which similarly carried detailed reports of the apparently ubiquitous falsification of the vote.
One speaker at a press conference in Makhachkala on September 20 described how staff at one polling station in the city openly filled out quantities of voting papers.Public Chamber member Shamil Khadulayev reported that, at virtually every polling station in Makhachkala, the chairman of the local election commission took possession of the sealed ballot boxes even before the ballot papers had been counted.
Oleg Melnikov, head of the civic organization Alternativa -- which helps people who are being exploited as slave labor -- whom participants in a straw poll conducted by Chernovik had named as the person they would prefer to represent them in the State Duma, described how a group of between 50 and 70 men forced their way into one Makhachkala polling station after the polls had closed and were prevented only by police intervention from stuffing quantities of additional ballot papers into the ballot boxes. Melnikov ran unsuccessfully as an independent State Duma candidate in Daghestan's Northern electoral district, where he was defeated by United Russia's incumbent candidate, Umakhan Umakhanov. He has since launched a petition on Change.org calling for the election results to be annulled.
Possibly in response to that initiative, Ella Pamfilova, who heads Russia's Central Electoral Commission (CEC), announced on September 21 an investigation into the allegations of widespread malpractice in Daghestan.
Yet while there is little doubt that falsification took place on a massive scale, it is virtually impossible to calculate exactly what percentage of the vote a given party really received. Yabloko's parliamentary candidates in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Daghestan are all skeptical of the official returns showing that the party failed to receive the minimum 5 percent of the vote to qualify for parliamentary representation.
Esedov calculated that Yabloko garnered between 8 and 12.5 percent in Daghestan, while veteran human rights campaigner Svetlana Gannushkina, who headed the Yabloko party list in Chechnya, is convinced the party received more than the 0.03 percent of the vote with which it was officially credited.
Whether or not the elections were, as Kavpolit.com affirms, the least democratic in Russia since 1991, the level of falsification will inevitably further deepen the rift between local political elites and an increasingly alienated and embittered electorate.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL