Electoral Rerun

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Last Sunday’s municipal elections in 75 of Russia’s 83 regions were like a bad rerun.  Everyone played their role well in the latest stage production of managed liberal democracy. United Russia trounced its rivals, most importantly in the coveted Moscow city government where UR took 32 of 35 seats.  The country’s real opposition, the Communist Party, got a mere three.  Similar results were reproduced across the country. Overall numbers show that the Party of Power averaged around 70% of the votes nationwide, while the Communists hovered around 13%.  The rest–Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party were in the single digits.  The liberal party meld of Yabloko and Right Cause got nothin’ worth mentioning.

Of course, every oppositional faction–which ranges from those who could participate like the Communists, LDPR, Just Russia, and Yabloko and those who couldn’t like Solidarity–hemmed and hawed about election fraud.  No Russian election can occur without it just like no sitcom sounds right without canned laughter.  And especially the city Duma elections in Moscow.  Did anyone actually think that the United Russia was going to allow the Communists, LDPR, and Yabloko have any say so in Moscow’s $40 billion budget?  Democracy–shmocracy.  This election, like all of them, was about power and money.

But Russia isn’t alone in this.  It seems that no election anywhere can occur without someone committing or pointing to fraud. In an age void of mass social movements where “democracy” holds global hegemony, crying electoral fraud has become the sole “revolutionary” act in a very anti-revolutionary world.  Well, I guess that and blowing yourself up.  A century ago, politics was a bitter struggle between the have-nots and the haves.  Economic crisis brought some nations to their knees; while others simply imploded. Now, “oppositional” politics has been reduced to the presence or absence of ballots.

Committing and claiming electoral fraud, therefore, has become integral to the logic of liberal democracy itself.  For those in power, fraud serves as a soft means of reproducing their power.  For those in opposition, it provides a safe raison d’etre where “democracy” is a rallying cry that never questions the foundations of the social-economic system it rests upon: capitalism.  So for opposition parties in Russia, the political contest is relegated to the superstructure: the accuracy of ballots, equal access to the polls, equal participation in campaigning, etc. The ballot is a political end in and of itself.

How else can one understand the “protest” by Duma deputies from the LDPR, Communists and Just Russia?  On Wednesday members from all three factions staged a walkout to protest Sunday’s election results citing the mass falsification of votes in favor of the Party of Power.  The deputies demanded a meeting with President Medvedev. When the President phoned LDPR hetman Zhironovsky and KPRF batka Zyuganov with a promise of a future meeting, the “revolutionaries” signaled that they would return to their stations, though Zyuganov says that his KPRFers won’t do anything until they actually meet with him.  “The fight goes on,” he declared.  Spoken like a true heir of Lenin.

The action is rightly being hailed as nothing more than a stunt staged by the factions or possibly even by the Kremlin itself.  United Russia dominates the Duma so thoroughly that it could function just fine without them, making the opposition’s walkout utterly meaningless.  The scandal will unlikely move any passions among the populace.  One thing you can say about many Russians, they are hardly naive when it comes to the tenor of this political dance.  According to a recent Levanda Center poll, 62 percent of Muscovites see elections as “simply imitations of a battle” between political elites.  Or, as Anton Orekh writes on Ekho Moskvy,  “The mutiny has been staged, just like the elections. First we were shown an imitation of elections and now an imitation of fury with the results of the elections.”  It’s like a revision of the Soviet adage: “You pretend to govern and we pretend to support you.”

Perhaps the most interesting comment comes from Eurasianist philosopher extraordinaire Alexander Dugin:

“I think that a high level of depolitiization exists in the country.  This means that both the people and those in power agree that serious political questions that would demand including the public are not on the table.  Therefore interest in parties is sapped and party politics is transformed into a kind of ceremony, a ritual.

This has an impact on elections, because I think that people simply don’t participate in them.  It is clear to everyone in the elections: no intrigue, no interests, and no enemies and no friends.  In this sense, I think that interest in elections is totally absent.

Dugin went on to conclude: “Therefore I think that elections [are] very uninteresting, boring, and predictable, and naturally United Russia will win.  It’s possible to not hold elections at all.  [They should] simply announce that United Russia won.”

We should listen to Dugin.  Instead of participating in the ritual of pointing out (yet again) the fraud of Russia’s elections (oh, the horror!), perhaps we should sit back and think of them as if they’ve already “jumped the shark” and hope that the Kremlin at some point cancels this bad sitcom so we can move on to other business.