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No Need to Pad the Vote


President Vladimir Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s federal ticket means that the results of the upcoming elections are now a foregone conclusion.

A prominent opposition spokesman recently wrote an excellent article proving that the results of the December State Duma elections would be falsified and that the exact number of votes each party will receive had been predetermined. The article also included a list of the parties and the predicted percentage results for each. Out of an old habit dating back to my school days, I decided to tally up the figures. The total was 112 percent.

The problem is not that the author of the article, who is an economist, had trouble with basic math; he simply received too much information. Before writing the article, he must have got his information from members of the Duma and was able to determine the conditions of the agreements between the candidates and the Kremlin.

Such an agreement was probably struck, and a promise to manipulate the election results might have been made, but the real question is whether that promise will be fulfilled. I believe that officials will not tamper with the votes — not because they are so honest at heart, but because they probably won’t have the opportunity or even the need to do so.

According to an electronic vote-monitoring system called Fairgame, the elections results in 2003 were tweaked to benefit United Russia. If this is true, then the scheme employed by United Russia to pad its percentages was nothing short of genius. This is the way the scheme worked: If a tiny party garnered, say, 0.9 percent of the vote, it was officially granted 0.5 percent. The difference, a negligible and virtually unnoticeable number, was added to United Russia’s tally. Since there were a lot of these small parties, United Russia was able to scrap together up to 7 percent more votes. This strengthened the party’s position, but it did not radically change the overall picture.

This arrangement may explain why, after many viable parties were barred from the 2007 elections for not meeting the strict threshold of 50,000 members, a few marginal groups were nevertheless allowed to run, despite claiming memberships in the hundreds at best.

But the political landscape has changed so much since 2003 that such manipulations are no longer necessary. With President Vladimir Putin’s decision to head United Russia’s federal ticket, the results of the upcoming elections are now a foregone conclusion. Moreover, many voters who are dissatisfied with the current leadership will not participate in the elections because they understand that they are meaningless. Thus, padding United Russia’s figures doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the party will do well in the elections anyway. What’s more, since the new law does not require that a minimum number of votes be cast, there is also no need to overstate the voter turnout.

At issue is not how well the party of power will fare, but if any other party will manage to clear the 7 percent hurdle needed to win Duma seats. For Russia to preserve even a semblance of democracy, it is important to have some opposition parties in the Duma. Happily, there is a solution: The conservative electorate supporting the Communist Party promises to turn out in adequate numbers to ensure that its candidates win their coveted Duma seats.

As for the others parties, their leaders dream of earning at least 3 percent of the vote in order to return the campaign money they’ve already spent. Election officials are undoubtedly reassuring them and promising to help, but in the end they won’t lift a finger. No bureaucrat will come to their aid by falsifying the results because it is difficult to properly disguise. It is much easier to count the votes in an honest fashion.

In the end, since Russia now has a de facto one-party system, it is not necessary at all to falsify election results.

© Copyright 2006 The Moscow Times.

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