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Falsification Par Excellence

Following Moscow City Duma elections four years ago, one of Russia’s top political analysts, Alexander Kynev, wrote that they had been “something of a ‘high point’ in the assault against the voting rights of citizens as the authorities tried to minimize political competition in the country.”

As it turned out, he was mistaken. The 2005 elections were not the worst example of rigged electoral practices. The results of subsequent elections reflected the will of voters less and less. That year would better have been designated as the start of a dark period for Russian democracy. The question is not whether the most recent elections conformed to minimum democratic criteria: elections involving the wholesale disqualification of candidates cannot be considered democratic in any way. The question now is simpler: Were the results falsified? If there was any debate as to the scale of falsification in the 2007 State Duma elections, the recent Moscow City Duma elections put an end to it.

It would be pointless to conduct an analysis of these elections. Even the simplest chart illustrating the official preliminary results of the share of votes each party received relative to the turnout at each polling station indicates a high likelihood that hundreds of thousands of votes were stuffed into the United Russia ballot box. Of course, there might be another way to explain why, wherever voter turnout exceeded 50 percent, the “extra” votes almost always went to United Russia, whereas the distribution of votes below the 50 percent benchmark was decidedly more varied. But a comparison of these results with those from elections prior to 2005 — and even with the apparently falsified 2007 election results — leaves little room for any other explanation.

Here is just one example: According to the Central Elections Commission, District 160 had a voter turnout of 18.3 percent, with United Russia winning 32.6 percent of the vote, the Communist Party 28.5 percent and Yabloko 18.2 percent. Nearby District 161 reported a turnout of 94.3 percent, with United Russia taking 77.8 percent of all votes, the Communist Party 2.8 percent and Yabloko only 0.9 percent. There might very well be a valid reason for the huge discrepancy — for example, one district might contain an enormous, low-rent housing complex with residents who vote en masse. The second might be dominated by expensive townhouses from which wild horses couldn’t drag the occupants to fulfill their civic duty. But that is only in theory. In reality, the discrepancy between those two particular districts was substantially lower in previous elections.

So the elections were falsified, and yet even under the best of conditions, United Russia failed to earn 50 percent of Muscovites’ votes. The practical considerations are even more complex. Up until recently, in any discussion regarding the falsification of election results, there was always the argument, “In any case, the majority of people support Putin (or Mayor Yury Luzhkov), so what difference do the election results make anyway?”

I once made a similar point when commenting on election results. But now I have my doubts. Now it seems that Muscovites really don’t support United Russia and its leader anymore. Winning 40 percent — at best — of the vote in an electoral race can by no means be interpreted as receiving a mandate from the voters.

Konstantin Sonin, a visiting professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, is a professor at the New Economic School in Moscow and a columnist for Vedomosti.

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