In September 2019, with a slew of opposition politicians barred from elections to the Moscow city council, Kremlin opponent Aleksei Navalny and his supporters mounted a campaign to break the monopoly of ruling party United Russia.
They launched a website to publicize a system called Smart Voting, which promoted candidates considered most likely to defeat those put forward by the Kremlin-backed political outfit. In each Moscow district, and in local elections across the country, they told voters who they thought those candidates were.
Two years on, Russia is preparing for another big election. From September 17 to 19, voters cast ballots in elections for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and in local and regional balloting. But much has changed for the opposition: Navalny languishes in prison, dozens of his acolytes have fled Russia, and authorities have demanded that major search engines stop displaying results for the term ”Smart Voting.”
Navalny's bid to scupper United Russia's continued dominance has now received another blow: in the Krasnodar region in Russia's south, a local company has launched a website for a political project with suspiciously similar branding and a very similar name: Rational Voting, which in Russian is close to identical (razumnoye golosovaniye instead of umnoye golosovaniye).
The Krasnodar-based news site Golos Kubani reported that the website was originally created by the New People party, a political outfit that’s considered part of Russia’s “systemic opposition.” The “systemic opposition” comprises parties that compete for votes with United Russia but are beholden to Moscow-based leaders who largely toe the Kremlin line.
"The idea of rallying around a common rival isn't bad in itself," Navalny, who is serving a 2 1/2 year prison term on a parole-violation charge he calls absurd, told the news outlet Meduza in response to the reports from Krasnodar. “That said, I would recommend not copying another project.”
This is not the first attempt to siphon votes and support away from opposition projects and candidates. In one St. Petersburg district, politician Boris Vishnevsky has found himself facing two rivals with exactly the same first and last names. When the official election poster for the district was published last week, he found that even their appearances appeared to be photoshopped to roughly match his.
"This is the only way these crooks can fight against me," Vishnevsky tweeted in reaction to the news, using part of a phrase -- "the party of crooks and thieves" -- commonly used by the opposition to refer to United Russia.