May was primary season in Russia. For the first time, some Russian political parties have adopted the American practice of holding primary votes to select their candidates for the forthcoming general election. The idea, supposedly, is to involve citizens more deeply in the democratic process, and to ensure that candidates have popular support and are not just the appointees of party leaders. So, how has it worked out?
For the country’s ruling United Russia party, the answer is pretty well. About 10 million people are said to have participated in the party’s primaries. The party’s opponents have since claimed that the votes were nothing more than a ‘PR stunt’ involving considerable electoral fraud in order to ensure that the leadership’s preferred candidates won. But in fact, the primaries produced a number of upsets. Unofficial results suggest that about 50 serving MPs lost their elections, most notably the Chairman of the Duma Committee on international Affairs Alexei Pushkov, who was standing to be the United Russia candidate for the Perm region. Candidates from the All Russian Popular Front, a collection of non-governmental organizations, are said to have fared particularly well, suggesting that the primaries have provided civil society with an opportunity to make its voice heard in the political process. The think tank Rethinking Russia thus concludes that the voting ‘was undoubtedly a success.’
By contrast, the primaries for the liberal opposition party PARNAS were a farce. As RT reports:
The file containing logins and passwords of everyone who had taken part in the primaries was posted on the PARNAS website on Sunday afternoon. The data was real and allowed anyone to see full details of any voter – including name, emails and phone numbers, as well as the people they voted for.
In consequence, PARNAS has had to suspend all voting. Well known blogger, and one-time PARNAS collaborator, Aleksei Navalny urged the party’s leader Mikhail Kasyanov to resign, and prominent party member Ilya Yashin pointed the finger at Kasyanov’s one time mistress Natalia Pelevina, saying that the leak came from within the party and ‘I have a lot of questions for that woman.’ The scandal has worsened the already great divisions in the liberal camp.
Perhaps even more embarrassing for PARNAS than the leak of personal information was the revelation of the total number of voters – about 4,000. The contrast with the 10 million for United Russia could hardly be more striking.