United Russia Mobilizes

This week a plethora of articles have emerged presaging the vote rigging extravaganza that will be Sunday’s parliamentary elections.  With all the talk of falsifying of results and opposition crushing, it is easy to forget that UR also employs tactics specially designed for the mobilization of certain voters who have and will cast a vote their way in the elections.  A whole system of, for want of a better word, bribery, (though the notion of a ‘contract’ is doubtless preferred), is in place to ensure that certain groups continue to support the ruling party, whose majority currently looks precarious.  Grigory Golosov from Open Democracy addresses this practice (as well as that of neutralizing the opposition) in an insightful in-depth piece on the pre-election game plan.  He breaks this UR-inclined demographic down into several categories:

  • the military – in Russia, a significant category, many of whom vote at specially established military units.  Even where this is not the case, the military commanders organise them to turn out at elections and are able to ensure that they vote for ‘United Russia’ and no one else;
  • patients in hospital, of whom the overwhelming majority are government supporters;
  • public bodies such as the Council of Veterans and Social Services take care of pensioner voting –  the pensioners receive financial assistance from the state and presents, a basket of various food items, for instance;
  • schools play an important part in mobilising voters. Campaigning in educational institutions is forbidden by law, but for ‘United Russia’ this ban has long since been ignored.  Teachers constantly remind parents of the need to vote: they talk about it at the parents’ evenings, they ring the parents at home and discuss the subject in class with the children. In higher education institutions, a lot of effort is put into mobilising the students, who are compelled to apply for absentee voting certificates where they live and vote at specially set up polling stations;
  • public sector employees are an obvious target group for special mobilisation, but recently this practice has been extended to the private sector as well.  Employers have been demanding that their employees vote for ‘United Russia’, often making it clear that if they don’t, they are likely to lose their bonus. Some employers even expect their staff to photograph their completed ballot paper on their mobile phone.

This system for mobilising the voters has been refined over many years and is now quite sophisticated.  According to analysts, some 30-40% of Russian voters come to the polling station for reasons that are not political. They have been mobilised to vote for ‘United Russia’, and most do, though more often than not the authorities are not in a position to monitor their behaviour. The demand to see photo evidence of voting, for example, can be got round by photographing the completed ballot paper and then spoiling it.

Read the whole article here.