According to official data, voter turnout was around 52% and the winner is the pro-presidential United Russia party, with over 49% of votes, followed by the Communist Party with 19%. The party of President V. Putin claims 324 seats out of a total of 450, that means a constitutional majority.
The government needs these elections to legitimize itself. The Putin regime is still an elective-authoritarian one, even if it’s heading towards a dictatorial one, almost seeming like inspired by Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus. Unlike in previous elections, there wasn’t as much interest manifested for the credibility of the electoral process. The fact that the announcement of highly suspicious results wasn’t followed by mass protests, does not mean that the population believes in the fairness of the elections, rather that it fears repression. This means less legitimacy for the government and increased social tension. Simply put, the vent represented by elections, needed for social pressure to be released, isn’t functioning any more.
As of summer 2020, since the Constitutional Referendum, the falsification of election results has become more and more sophisticated. In addition to the classical methods of throwing votes into the urn, electoral tourism, falsifying reports, these elections also brought two new processes: voting lasted for three days, same as the Constitutional Referendum, thus facilitating new abuses and frauds; the greatest novelty is thatthe process of falsifying election results in Russia has entered the digital age with electronic voting in Moscow.
The number of presumed voter fraud has also increased. Almost 14 million votes might have been falsified (according to statistics by Serghei Shpilkin). Most cases, nearly one million are from the Volga region, from Bashkortostan, followed by the republics of North Caucasus: Ingushetia, Chechenia, Dagestan. All the falsified votes were in favour of United Russia, otherwise the party would have achieved only 32%.
The turnout rate is also false. It has never been accurate; however, a bigger turnout was now an important goal for the Kremlin. In all of his public appearances, President Putin underlined that a 52% rate meant that over half of the voting population had voted. The actual turnout, according to statistics, is only 38%, in spite of the three days of voting process, under the pretext of the pandemic, of mobilizing state workers in the first day, and of electronic voting.
Electronic voting took place in Russia for the first time with the September parliamentary elections. For the moment, in only 6 regions and in the capital of Moscow. While the results in the 6 regions are not contested, arrived immediately and were separated from the other votes, the votes in Moscow arrived 12 hours late and were not separated. As a result, on Monday morning, the 12 electoral circumscriptions seemed to have chosen opposition candidates, while after electronic votes were received, all the seats were taken by Kremlin-supported candidates. This further increased suspicions of massive fraud. Electronic voting could not be overseen efficiently. On the final day of voting, the independent observers were removed and were told that their access codes granted by FSB (the main successor of the KGB) had expired. When voting electronically in Moscow, the voters could strangely change their vote as many times as they wished, in a process named “re-voting”. Several hundreds of thousands of votes were “re-voted” so that the government’s candidates would win. The President of the Central Electoral Commission, Ella Panfilova, stated that electronic voting would be made available for the entire nation in the 2024 presidential elections. In addition, President Putin, answering to the complaint of Communist leader Ghenadi Ziuganov about the lack of transparency in electronic voting, stated that the losing candidates oppose electronic voting, only because of their negative feelings, and that one cannot stand in the way of technologic advancements.
The massive participation in the election is also a novelty: over half a million people from the Donbass were brought in with special trains and hundreds of busses to vote in the Rostov region, on the Ukraine frontier. Their mobilization was partly owed to the fact that the inhabitants of the Donbass received Russian passports. So, they would have come to vote in return for the Russian passports. It’s unlikely, however, that the Russian authorities who organised the journey also had control over the intent to vote.
“Umnoe golosovanie”/”smart voting”, patented by Aleksey Navalny is an electoral strategy meant to reduce the chances of the government-supported candidate opposed by the voters (not by the parties!), by voting for the opposition candidate with the greatest chances. Smart voting was first proposed in the autumn of 2018 by Navalny and produced results in local and regional elections. This increased the government’s hostility towards Navalny, seen as a real threat, a fact which might have resulted in last year’s attempted poisoning. Although the government has deemed the Anti-Corruption Foundation and Navalny’s Russian offices as “foreign agents” and later, by judge ruling, “extremist organizations”, it could not “kill” smart voting. The leaders of these so-called extremist organizations face up to 10 years in jail. The activists and volunteers can be condemned to 2 to 6 years in a prison camp. So, the leaders have fled Russia, and published a list of 1234 voting recommendations for parliamentary, local and regional elections all over the country, one day before voting started.
On September 28th, over a week after election, Russian prosecution began a criminal case against Aleksey Navalny, accusing him and his main collaborators, Leonid Volkov and Ivan Jdanov of founding extremist organisations. The prosecution’s note also mentions 6 other individuals from the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the most well-known being L. Sobol charged for participating in the activities of the “extremist organization”.
Kremlin considers the act of opposing corruption as an extremist activity which must be exemplarily punished. This new measure against Navalny’s small team reinforces the perception that umnoe golosovanie/smart voting was successful in the parliamentary election and did not result in seats, only because election was frauded.
15 electoral circumscriptions in Moscow and 8 in Petersburg were in the spotlight. The candidates recommended by smart voting had strong chances. In a message following the elections, Aleksey Navalny stated that smart voting won, as 7 out of 8 candidates in Petersburg were successful. In Moscow, 12 out of the 15 candidates supported by smart voting won. However, their victories were stolen in Petersburg by traditional methods and in Moscow by electronic voting. About 2 million votes in Moscow, almost half of the entire city, were electronic and changed the results in all of the 12 electoral circumscriptions.
The foreign companies Apple, Google, YouTube did not resist Kremlin’s pressure and blocked access to Navalny’s team voting recommendations, under the pretext of protecting their Russian employees threatened by the authorities. This enhances the belief that the government controls the internet, an increasingly-hostile platform for opposition leaders.
The most important political phenomenon is the transformation of the Communist Party into the leader of democratic opposition in Russia. This is a result of pressure by the voters (who were left without a political vehicle, be it one different from Kremlin’s favoured political system), after Navalny’s organizations were disbanded. This could deepen the conflict within the party between the old Soviet guard, led by Ziuganov and the young people who are wishing a Western European-style leftist party, which would adhere to and promote democratic ideals. The radicalization of the Communist Party has begun a few years ago. Smart voting played an important role. The Communists who won elections due to smart voting owe their seats to Navalny, rather than to the Communist leadership. They have changed their attitude, they have begun to take their mandates seriously, reinforced by the legitimacy they obtained through a real victory in the election. Some of the Communist leaders disloyal towards Putin stand out, as they have begun to criticize him. The Kremlin responded through aggressive measures, firstly by arresting and condemning some Communist activists. The only party who can still organize protests or inspire the voters is the Communist one. The key issue here is that there is no connection between the voters who plead for a democratic Russia under a red flag and the Communist ideology. It is only a marriage of interest which will end as soon as events will allow it to. Those who fight for democracy and free elections could save themselves in Ziuganov’s boat. For their part, the Communists enriched themselves in votes and in seats in the Duma, from 42 to 57.