Freedom cannot be postponed, but fair elections can?
The world’s attention is rightly focused on Asia, as the effects of the earthquake in Japan still unfold. It is thus not surprising that the regional elections held this Sunday in Russia went almost unnoticed. Most regional elections would probably have the same fate even in a world not confronted with a major disaster, yet the March 13 Russian elections deserve some attention. Wisely scheduled nine months before elections to the State Duma and twelve months before the Presidential ones, this Sunday’s elections have been a real life test of the voters’ political preferences amid deep economic crisis. And the test has indicated two already intrinsic features of Russian political life: first, United Russia continues to dominate the voters’ preferences, even if not with the definite majority its leaders would want it to (46%). It is obviously refreshing for its leaders that the party has only lost 0.2% in 4 years, despite economic hardships and (sporadic) social unrest. The second feature proved by the test is that Russian elections continue to be rigged, from the very start of the process (candidate registration) to its very end (vote count). Indeed, reports of election monitors published over the last 10 years vary little, if at all, over time. Abuse of administrative resources, control of media, intimidation of voters are part of the Russian electoral process, in slight variations on the same theme. This Sunday marked the beginning of an intense electoral year in Russia. For the next 12 months, elections to the State Duma and for the President will dominate political life. Analysts already started fiddling with results and their interpretation, running different electoral algorithms and political scenarios. It all worked, except for the simple fact that in Russia, still, opposition leaders are put in prison and media is tightly controlled, so to a big extent elections results depend “not on how they vote, but on who counts the votes”. The numerous incidents of non-democratic behavior of the Russian establishment have triggered soft-spoken reactions from US, and hardly any reaction from the EU. It is foreseeable that, with current international preoccupations and major elections bundling up in the next 18 months or so, this will continue to be the attitude towards Russian violations of its citizens’ rights and freedoms, to the loss of democracy in the country. It is true that Russia continues to play an important role in the international arena, and both US and the EU need its cooperation, or at least strategic silence, on a number of world issues. So it is no surprise that Vice President Biden reassured the Russian government (ironically right before the electoral test on Sunday) that United States will work with the next Russian president whoever he might be. Could “how he gets elected” also be an issue?
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