Tag Archives: elections

Analysis of Russian Election Results

The results of last week’s election to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, are now in. The big winners? The ruling United Russia party (UR) which won 50% of the vote. Second was the Communist Party of the Russian Federation at 19%; next at 7.5% was Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) as well as A Just Russia – For Truth; and last to win a batch a seats was a new formation, New People, which got just over 5%. Nine other parties collected 12% between them but failed to get over the 5% needed to get seats according to the party list system. 

I have analyzed the results in an article for RT (here) As I say, both UR, whose result was 5% down compared with the last election in 2016, and the Communists, whose vote was about 6% up, have reason to be happy. UR will win close to 320 seats out of the 450 available, a majority of over two-thirds. Meanwhile, the CPRF has enjoyed its best election for 20 years, consolidating its position as Russia’s main opposition. When Russians are dissatisfied with their rulers, the Communists are their first choice for an alternative. It’s a sobering thought for those in the West who imagine that a post-Putin Russia will be all love and cuddles. 

There’s only so much that one can put in a 1,000 word article, so I thought I should develop some points further here. 

1. Fraud. UR’s 50% is well above predictions. Pre-election polls had the party pegged at about 35% of decided, definite voters. In the past, undecideds have tended to gravitate towards UR or have just not voted at all, so it was to be expected that UR would get more than the 35% polled. 40% would not have been unreasonable. The state polling company VTsIOM was predicting 45%. But 50% is way beyond expectations. Unsurprisingly, some people consider the result more than a little fishy. 

Of course, some were going to shout fraud whatever happened. But UR’s showing certainly provides grounds for suspicion. The Central Electoral Commission cancelled results from several polling stations after cameras spotted ballot stuffing. Who knows how many others got away with it. 

The main target at this moment in time is the system of electronic voting. For the first time, Russians had the option of voting in person in the old fashion way with pen and paper, or online. Even before the election, critics were saying that the latter was a recipe for abuse, as it would be impossible for outsiders to verify the published results. 

What makes people doubly suspicious is that when the results were issued, it turned out that a higher percentage of online than in-person voters cast their ballots for UR. Moscow has become a particular focus of attention. The electronic results from Moscow were delayed for several hours. Until they were published, opposition (i.e. non-UR) candidates were leading in nearly all the Moscow constituencies. Once the electronic votes were declared, the balance tipped and UR won every single seat. Some people are calling foul, and suggesting that the delay was caused by the requirement to rig the result and calculate just how many extra votes were needed to give UR a win in each constituency.

The Moscow electoral commission stands by its results and says that the delay was due to the novelty of the system, the large number of electronic voters, and the fact that in Moscow electors had the option to change their vote, which supposedly caused some problems in the system. The commission says that it checked the results 4 times to ensure that they were accurate. You may believe it or not, as you wish.

An explanation for the Moscow anomaly could be that different categories of voters prefer different systems of voting. In last year’s US presidential election, for instance, postal voting was greatly preferred by Biden supporters. Trump appeared to be about to win several states until the results of the postal ballots were added, 80% of which went to Biden, swinging the states in favour of the latter. Perhaps a similar dynamic is at work in Russia. Maybe anti-UR voters didn’t trust electronic voting and so stayed clear of it, thus giving them a majority among paper voters but ensuring a majority the other way around among electronic voters.

Or maybe it was fraud, pure and simple. The very nature of electronic voting means that we don’t the evidence at our disposable to say definitively one way or the other. At any rate, the Moscow electronic results will provide those wanting to denounce the elections as fraudulent with a plausible means of doing so. Defeated Communist candidates are calling for protests in Moscow. It will be interesting to see if anyone turns up.

2. Liberal defeat and New People. If the Communists did well, Russia’s main liberal parties – Yabloko, Civic Platform, and the Party of Growth – did dismally, polling just 1.5% between the three of them, although it looks like they all might get one Duma deputy due to victories in single member constituencies. Yabloko did the best of the three, but at just over 1% this was its worst result ever. At this point it’s hard to see what purpose the party serves by continuing to exist. It’s a mere shell of its former self and I see no way that it can recover. It’s well past time for the banner of liberalism to pass on to somebody else.

That somebody could perhaps be the party New People, which garnered 5% and so is entitled to about a dozen seats in parliament. New People was only created last year, so it’s hard to say much about it or what it stands for. But as far as I’ve been able to find out (and I’m willing to be corrected if I have this wrong), it’s a moderately economically liberal party that stresses getting practical results in Russia’s localities rather than fighting with the authorities in Moscow. If you know your 19th century Russian liberal history, it strikes me as a little bit like the ‘small deeds’ liberalism of the late imperial zemstvo movement.

There’s a long-standing streak in Russian liberalism that regards fighting the state as pretty much the definition of what it means to be liberal. Gosudarstvennost’ (statehood) and obshchestvennost, (roughly speaking, hand-shakeable, liberally correct public opinion) are assumed to be irreconcilable enemies. Consequently, New People’s attitude to the central authorities makes many members of contemporary obshchestvennost’ consider the party to be little more than a bunch of Kremlin stooges. However, given that the alternatives have failed so utterly dismally, New People’s non-confrontational approach may be about the only hope that Russian liberalism has for a revival.

Will New People amount to anything? Only time will tell, but for now it can legitimately claim to have more appeal among liberally-minded urban professional types than do the likes of Yabloko. Likewise it has some good reasons for claiming that its approach offers greater prospects than the street liberalism of radicals like Alexei Navalny.

Which provides a suitable link for a discussion of ‘smart voting.’

3. Smart Voting. This is the scheme dreamt up by imprisoned activist Alexei Navalny and his team. It encourages electors to vote for whatever candidate in a given constituency has the best chance of defeating the candidate of United Russia. It doesn’t matter which party that first candidate is from – smart voting says that you should vote for him or her in order to stop UR from winning.

Navalny and his boosters claim that smart voting is the bees knees and has the powers that be trembling in their beds. The reality is that it is a dud.

Navalny’s top aide, Leonid Volkov, claims that smart voting won in nearly all the constituencies in Moscow and St Petersburg, at least until the authorities fiddled the vote with the online results. There’s a few things wrong with this.

In the first place, fraud or no fraud, at the end of the day, the candidates recommended by smart voting lost. In the second place, most of them were Communists. If they did well, it was because of the general upsurge in Communist support, not because of smart voting, which in any case didn’t identify the preferred candidates until the day before the election and so can’t have made that much of a difference. Calling Communists ‘Navalny-backed candidates’ and claiming credit for their success is a fraud that nobody should fall for.

And third, in some cases where non-UR candidates won, they did so despite smart voting recommending somebody else. For instance, the Communists beat UR into second place in the far eastern province of Yakutia, but smart voting told people in Yakutia to vote for A Just Russia. Anybody who followed smart voting’s advice would have helped UR not hindered it. Similarly, a Yabloko candidate managed to win a seat in a by-election for the Moscow City Council. But smart voting told electors to cast their ballot for the Communist candidate. This latter case, I think, proves the point that even in Moscow, the most liberal city in Russia, voters don’t do what smart voting tells them to.

To tell if smart voting had any effect, one would have to do a detailed study comparing local single-member constituency results with the votes cast for party lists in the same constituencies, taking into account issues which might distort the sample, such as the popularity or non-popularity of individual candidates. Obviously, this is beyond my means. But even if one did manage to find some minor impact in a few places, at the macro-level UR won nearly 200 of the 225 constituency seats. At the level which matters, in other words, smart voting failed totally.

This confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time, namely that Navalny and his team are over-hyped deadenders. It’s time to stop pretending otherwise.

None of the Above: Thoughts on Two Elections

Citizens of Russia and Canada go to the polls over the next few days to elect new parliaments – the Duma in Russia’s case, the House of Commons in that of Canada. It’s fair to say that neither is generating a lot of international excitement. In Russia’s case, because the result is (within certain boundaries) a foregone conclusion; and in Canada’s case because nobody cares.

Insofar as the Canadian press is covering the Russian election, it’s to portray it as fundamentally flawed, if not downright corrupt – a pretence at democracy rather than the real thing. Typical is the latest by the CBC’s new Moscow correspondent Briar Stewart, which starts off by quoting the campaign manager of the liberal Yabloko party in Krasnodar, saying that, “the State Duma election is the most terrible election I have seen since my birth.” The rest of the article then hammers home the point in case any readers hadn’t got it already.

There’s an element of truth to the complaints about the Russian elections, although it’s worth noting that the authorities’ manipulation of the system occurs primarily before votes are cast rather than after. That’s to say that the ‘managed’ party of ‘managed democracy’ mainly involves making life difficult for opposition candidates, limiting their access to the media, and things like that, rather than practices like ballot stuffing or falsifying the count (not to say that these practices don’t happen, but the general feeling is that the authorities prefer to limit them so as to avoid ridiculous results that lack legitimacy).

Nevertheless, although the playing field is far from a level one, when Russian voters head into the booths to cast their ballots, they have quite a lot of choice.

It’s reckoned that four or five parties will gain seats in the Duma via the proportional representation system that assigns half the total to those parties that win over 5% (the other half are chosen by first-past-the-post constituency elections). Most of these likely winners fall, I would say, in the left-conservative bracket, but there’s a lot of variation – from the hard left Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), through the also fairly left wing Just Russia party, the centrist United Russia, the centre-right New People (the least likely to pass the 5% hurdle), and the nationalist LDPR.

If those aren’t to your liking, there’s another 9 parties on the ballot papers. Most are no-hopers, though one or two might win a constituency here or there. For instance, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that the CPRF has sold out communism, you can vote for the more hardcore Communists of Russia. Or, likewise, if you think that the LDPR are a bunch of softies and you want tougher action on issues like immigration, you can throw your support behind Rodina. Or, if you’re liberally-inclined and think that New People are Kremlin stooges, you can put your cross next to the name of Yabloko (also Kremlin stooges according to the bizarre logic of the Navalnyites) or the more free market-inclined Party of Growth.

In other words, despite all the manipulations of the authorities, even if the final result is not in doubt (United Russia will win a majority), once you’re in voting booth ready to cast your secret ballot you actually have a lot of options open to you.

Now, let’s look at Canada.

Outside of Quebec (where you also have the separatist Bloc Quebecois), there’s only three options if you want to vote for somebody who win will a seat: Liberal, Conservative, and NDP (Green might pick up one seat, but overall are somewhere around 3% in the polls). The only other party likely to get a reasonable number of votes is the People’s Party of Canada, which is enjoying a surge (6-7%), primarily, it seems, by appealing to anti-vaxxers. But it has no chance of winning any seats and is thus a wasted vote except as a protest.

In other words, in real terms you have a choice of three parties. Let’s see what distinguishes them. As far as I can see, their platforms run roughly as follows:

Party A: Money grows on trees. Spend, spend, spend. Party B: Money grows on trees. Spend, spend, spend, and spend! Party C: Money grows on trees. Spend, spend, spend, and spend some more!

Party A: Here’s the list of interest groups I want to throw money at. Party B: Here’s my list. Look it’s even longer. Party C: Hah, you think your list is long – look at mine!

Party A: Woke is good. Party B: Woke is extra good. Party C: Woke is extra, extra good.

Party A: Russia is evil. Party B: Russia is very evil. Party C: Russia is very super evil.

Party A: We’ll be tough on China. Party B: We’ll be extra tough on China. Party C: We’ll be extra, mega tough on China. (Of course, in practice, none of them will!)

By now you get the point. It doesn’t really matter who you vote for, you end up with pretty much the same thing. That’s not to say that there are no differences, but they’re not on fundamentals. Basically, it’s three variations of a theme.

So there you have it. In one country, you have lots of choice, but the system’s fixed to make sure the same guys always win. In the other, it’s a fair fight – anyone can win – it just doesn’t matter who does – they’re all the same. You might say that one is rigged at the micro level, while the other is rigged at the macro level.

Which is better? I’ll leave it to you to decide. Meanwhile, I have the difficult decision as to whether Party A, Party B, or Party C is more worthy of my vote on Monday. What a choice!

Abusing human rights

I came across the following while reading the Globe and Mail newspaper over breakfast this morning. Referring to former Canadian foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, who has been leading the Canadian mission observing the presidential election in Ukraine, the Globe informed readers that:

Russia is abusing the human rights of people living in Crimea and other Kremlin-backed parts of eastern Ukraine by using landmines, border delays and online propaganda to discourage them from voting in the Ukrainian election, the head of Canada’s election monitoring mission says.

Axworthy is particularly exercised by the fact that, ‘There were no voting stations for Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and the Russian-controlled parts of the eastern Donbass region.’ The Globe continues:

‘I think the Russians really are abusing the human rights of these people,’ Mr. Axworthy said. ‘They have an important right to vote, and I think they are doing everything in their power to try to undermine it.’

He said some of the election observers in eastern Ukraine heard about voters being deliberately held up at the Russian-controlled border, while others couldn’t even get to the border.

‘We had discussions with some of the observers who were talking about how in the areas around some of the checkpoints there were land-mine fields that people see as a real risk,’ Mr. Axworthy said.

Obviously, it’s not good news if people living outside their country can’t get to vote. But whose fault is that? It’s not Russia’s responsibility to set up polling stations for the Ukrainian election. That’s the responsibility of the Ukrainian government. But back in January, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission announced that it would not open any polling stations in the Russian Federation, thereby depriving 3-4 million Ukrainians living in Russia of the right to vote. Why doesn’t Mr Axworthy mention that?? Do Ukrainians in Russia not ‘have an important right to vote’? And why is it Russia which is ‘doing everything in their power to try to undermine it’ when it is the Ukrainian government which took the decision to deprive its citizens of the ability to exercise this right?

As for delays on the borders between rebel-held Donbass and government-controlled Ukraine, these are real, but as has long been reported, the Ukrainian government is in large part to blame. Let me here cite a headline from the New York Times: ‘Ukraine Clamps Down on Travel to and from Rebel Areas’. As the report which follows says, ‘the Ukrainian authorities are now doing all they can to halt cross-border movement, deploying the full force of a Byzantine bureaucracy on the more than three million people living in rebel-held areas.’ But somehow, according to Lloyd Axworthy, the fact that people in Donbass find it hard to get into government-controlled Ukraine is Moscow’s fault! Go figure.

Land mines are another issue which is much more complicated than presented in this article. It’s natural that Mr Axworthy should be concerned about them as he was one of the architects of the 1999 Ottawa Land Mines Treaty. Tens of thousands of landmines have been laid in Donbass. Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has complained, ‘Not only are the sides not de-mining, they are in fact laying more mines.’ Note the use of the word ‘sides’ – both the rebels and the Ukrainian army are guilty of using these weapons. Ukraine denies this, but both the OSCE and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accuse the Ukrainian army of laying anti-personnel mines in Donbass. The Russian Federation, incidentally, has not signed the Land Mines Treaty. Ukraine, however, has both signed and ratified it. Ukraine is thus in clear breach of its treaty obligations. Why then does Mr Axworthy paint the mine problem as a Russian one and not condemn the Ukrainian army for its actions?

Returning to my earlier point, the Russian government isn’t depriving Ukrainians of their right to vote: the Ukrainian government is. But that’s not all. The Ukrainians previously also deprived Russians of that right too. For when the Russian presidential election was held last year, the Ukrainian government posted policemen outside the Russian embassy in Kiev and the Russian consulates in Kharkov, Odessa, and Lvov to physically prevent Russians from entering the buildings in order to cast their votes. Lloyd Axworthy says that voting is an ‘important right’ and that it is an ‘abuse of human rights’ to stop people from voting. But we never heard so much as a peep from him when the authorities in Kiev did just that.

Unfortunately, Canada’s political elites, like those in many other Western countries, seem to have absolutely no discernment when it comes to matters concerning Russia and Ukraine. They lap up and regurgitate Ukrainian propaganda without the slightest bit of critical thinking; they seek to turn every story about Ukraine into an opportunity to bash Russia, even when Ukraine is actually the one responsible for the problems being discussed; and they display the most shameless double standards. Today’s article in the Globe and Mail is a case in point. It gets absolutely everything wrong. Sadly, that’s pretty much par for the course.

My subscription to the Globe expires on 12 April. I’m not renewing.

‘Pro-Russian’ wins election

No, not Donald Trump, although I’ll mention him later. On Monday, Bulgaria held the first round of its presidential election. In an effort to scare voters into supporting the government’s preferred candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, outgoing president Rosen Plevneliev warned that Russia is trying ‘to weaken Europe, to divide Europe, and to make us dependent’. Unsaid but implied in Plevneliev’s statement was the idea that a vote for the ‘pro-Russian’ Socialist Party candidate, and former air force general, Rumen Radev, would be a vote for Putin and a vote to turn Bulgaria into a Russian satrap. As Tsacheva has said, ‘There are two options – to allow Bulgaria slide back into its dark past of ideological lies and submission to foreign interests or … to make sure that Bulgaria stays where it belongs, among free European countries’.

Unfortunately for Plevneliev and Tsacheva, Bulgarian voters viewed things differently. Radev came out on top in Monday’s election, winning 25.7% of the vote, compared with 22% for Tsacheva. The two now go face to face in a run-off, which the ‘Red General’ is expected to win.

The dominoes are falling. On 31 October, ‘pro-Russian’ candidate Igor Dodon won 48.2% of the vote in the first round of the Moldovan presidential election, beating ‘pro-European’ Maia Sandu, who garnered only 38.4%. Next to fall was Bulgaria. Now America. Who’s next? France and Marine Le Pen six months from now? No doubt, they’re beginning to panic in the editorial offices of The Economist and The Interpreter. The ‘pro-Russians’ are on the march.

Or, maybe not. I don’t doubt that Dodon, Radev, and Trump are less hostile to Russia than their opponents, but the ‘pro-Russian’ label is misplaced. People who cast their vote on the basis of foreign policy are relatively rare. Most people’s concerns are thoroughly domestic. They don’t vote for Dodon, Radev, Trump, Le Pen, or anybody else because they are ‘pro-Russian.’ They vote for them because they think that their policies better suit their own personal interests as well as the interests of Moldova, Bulgaria, America, or wherever. Dividing the domestic politics of these countries into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Russian is not a useful way of framing events.

Moreover, when elected, the ‘pro-Russian’ candidate often turns out not to be so ‘pro-Russian’ after all. Take, for example, Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovich. The Russians didn’t regard him as ‘pro-Russian’ in the slightest, and actually preferred the ‘pro-European’ Yulia Timoshenko. There is no telling whether Trump, Dodon, and Radev will actually be ‘pro-Russian’ once in office. What they will be is pro-American, pro-Moldovan, and pro-Bulgarian. If their own country’s interests clash with those of Russia, they will pursue the former at the expense of the latter. They will also be constrained by their countries’ membership in multilateral institutions (most notably NATO and the EU in the case of the Bulgaria), by their countries’ economic and financial ties with other states, by the pro-NATO, pro-EU, anti-Russian attitudes of their bureaucracies, and so on.

Simply put, the media’s obsession with viewing other countries’ elections in terms of the candidates’ relationship to Russia does a disservice to those countries’ politics and to our understanding of the world.