The number of Russians requesting absentee ballots has increased fourfold in the last four years, reports Lenta.ru. The Interregional Union of Voters, a Russian outfit that seeks to protect voting rights, says that as of 24 November 99,711 people have requested absentee ballots, up from 26,026 in 2003. This should be good news for United Russia. Because as one unnamed teacher from St. Petersburg told the Associated Press, her school instructed the staff to get absentee ballots and go and submit their ballots together. “They didn’t tell us necessarily to vote for United Russia, but you can read between the lines,” she said. The teacher’s story is apparently one of many accounts of employers instructing their employees when, where, and in some cases who to vote for. It seems like United Russia has learned the imaginative things one can do with absentee ballots. Especially if you consider whether they followed with earnest the critical role absentee ballots played in deciding the American Presidential Election in 2000. America has always wanted to be a teacher of democracy to Russia. Now it will get its chance.
That’s not the United Russia party line, however. Putin assures all Russians that Sunday’s elections will be “maximally transparent and open” without “organizational shortcomings and malfunctions.” So confident is the Party of Power that election commish Vladimir Churov dismissed complaints that regional governors are planning on stuff ballot boxes and other acts of electoral malfeasance. “Don’t believe everything that you read,” he said in English just in case we would miss it. And why worry oneself with electoral fraud when Churov is working diligently to bring the narod closer to the democratic process. Forget the slow motion of cable TV, the internet, and other domestic news outlets. The Russian voter has instant access to poll results just by dialing 5503 on their mobile and a SMS with the latest polling stats will appear! Virtual politics has now become the norm rather than the exception.
The election’s virtuality doesn’t mean that power has no punch. Today we learn that Garry Kasparov has “disappeared.” Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and chess king and Public Chamber member Anatoly Karpov were refused access to Kasparov. Police even refused Kasparov’s mother from delivering a package of pirozhki and water. In response, supporters (including SPS candidate Boris Nemtsov) quickly set up a 24-hour picket calling for his release. Shortly thereafter the picket became a smörgåsbord of the “opposition” and their detractors. Nashi commissar Sergei Kamyshev showed up with a few Nashi thugs to pester Nemtsov as he spoke. Then SPS leader Nikita Belykh made an appearance to show support to the detained chess champion. And let us not forget to mention how Yabloko Youth leader Ilya Yashin got harangued by individuals in the crowd demanding that he pay them the 450 rubles owed to them for coming to the Dissenter’s March. He denied the requests as he stood alone with sign reading “Free Kasparov” Police demanded a permit for his picket of one. When he didn’t produce one, they dragged him on to an awaiting bus. If I were the police, I don’t think I could release Kasparov fast enough. They must have come to this conclusion since they plan to release him as planned and drive him straight home to avoid any further fiascoes.
Still the “opposition” presses on, albeit feebly. SPS is now complaining that the Kremlin has broken its promise to give SPS seats if they refrained from criticizing Putin. “At first, Kremlin spin doctors said the party would be allowed into the Duma if it refrained from criticism,” an unnamed SPS deputy told the Moscow Times. “But then they changed their minds and decided not to keep their promise. The party is angry, and now the only chance it has to get into the parliament is to gather the protest vote.” The Communists and Yabloko both claim to have made similar deals with the Kremlin. What!? And now were are expected to feel sorry for them? If anything their whining about broken political promises should be a signal to their supporters that they are nothing but slimy political opportunists. All’s fair in love, war, and politics, boys. What a bunch of losers.
The NGO Golos is claiming that it’s been forced them to shut down their activities due to a politically motivated criminal investigation in Samara. What is the motive for police snooping in their office? That’s right. You guessed it. Installing unlicensed software on their computers! “The goal of the authorities is to conduct the elections so quietly that you can’t hear a mosquito,” Golos head Lyudmila Kuzmina told the Moscow Times. “We remain the only troublesome mosquito buzzing in the silence.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Kuzmina’s claims “don’t correspond with reality.” Yeah, right.
But the big, big question is what Putin will say in his recorded address tonight. Will he resign? That’s what some think. Resignation would allow Putin to unitize a loophole in the law to run for President in March. The loophole, explains RFE/RL, is found in Article 3, Section 5 of the election law. It states that “a citizen who holds the office of president of the Russian Federation for a second consecutive term on the day of the official publication of the date of the election cannot be elected president.” If Putin resigns before the date of the Presidential election is published in Rossiiskaya gazeta, he can technically and legally run for office again. Oh, damn! It was published today. So much for that theory.
So what is Putin expected to say? United Russia denies that he will either resign or announce that he will join the party. If insiders are telling the truth, the speech looks to be nothing more than a campaign commercial for United Russia. Putin simply plans on explaining why he supports them. United Russia has paid for its airing at noon on Channel One, but will sure reap the benefits when its played and replayed on the news. The cost of a prime-time ad on the station costs about 2.5 million rubles ($103,000). The costs of a midday broadcast wasn’t disclosed. Whatever the price, its certain loop on the news will ensure that United Russia will get more bang for its buck.
In the meantime, here’s what Putin has to say to the world:
“I would like to note straight away that our political course is clearly defined and solid. We are following a path of democratic development. And the priority here remains to ensure and exercise human rights and freedoms, to encourage of the potential of each individual.”
Boy, that really sounds nice.