Why opposition is urging voters to sabotage ballots in Russia election
Voters should spoil their ballots in Russia's elections Sunday to protest a stage-managed process, says a leader whose party has been banned. One poll finds that 80 percent of Russians say voting has no impact.
For those who argue that the cup of Russian democracy is half full because it offers a limited range of electoral choices, Mikhail Kasyanov has a sharp retort: half full means no democracy at all.Skip to next paragraph
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"Yes, maybe 50 percent of the population will find the party they want to vote for on the ballot, but without acceptable choices for the other 50 percent, elections cannot be considered free. They are just an imitation of democracy," says Mr. Kasyanov, a former prime minister and co-chair of the liberal People's Freedom Party (PARNAS), which has been banned from participating in the Dec. 4 polls to elect a new State Duma, Russia's 450-seat lower house of parliament.
Kasyanov and his fellow leaders of PARNAS, including former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov and independent politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, have embarked on a strategy that is as controversial as it is risky. They are urging Russians to go to the polls and deliberately spoil their ballots in protest against a system that provides all the trappings of democratic choice while carefully stage-managing the process to ensure the final result required by the Kremlin.
"We don't think it's wise to raise hopes among people that any casting of votes will change the election outcome that the authorities will announce," Kasyanov says. "But the institution of elections wasn't invented by Vladimir Putin; it's the people's house. That's why we are urging people to come out to the polling stations on election day to show their opposition to the temporary occupation of their home by Putin and his regime."
IN DEPTH SERIES:
PART 3, TODAY: Will voters join protest against Russia's 'trappings of democracy'?
Banned on technicalities?
PARNAS, which was created last year through an amalgamation of four smaller liberal groups, appears to have met all the stringent Russian legal requirements for registration, and thus inclusion on the ballot. But last June, Russia's Justice Ministry abruptly cancelled the party's registration, citing seemingly minor technicalities, such as alleged contradictions between some articles in the party's founding charter and the claim that about 70 of the party's 46,000 members nationwide were either dead or underaged persons.
Party leaders insist they were excluded because they represent a genuine political alternative to the officially sanctioned field of choices, which includes two small liberal parties. Kasyanov says PARNAS differs mainly in its fierce refusal to submit to Kremlin control, and the fact that it includes several experienced politicians – people with hands-on experience in government – with strong business connections that might attract substantial resources and wide support if it were allowed to freely run.
Independent experts say that PARNAS is probably unelectable, in part because all pro-Western liberals are deeply unpopular in Russia, and people like Kasyanov and Nemtsov are tainted as 1990s holdovers who got their start in the corrupt and inept administration of former President Boris Yeltsin. Some argue that PARNAS's exclusion from public politics reveals not so much fear that it might actually win an election as the irrational bureaucratic urge for total control that underlies the Putin system.