Russia Needs an Election Reset

Rejecting the ruling party's flagrant vote fraud and going back to 1999 rules would allow more sane politics.


On December 4 Russian voters cast so many votes against Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party that the party's mandate sank to just under 50 percent. United Russia lost 77 of its 315 parliamentary seats despite widespread voter fraud; in some areas the party got more votes than there were voters.

The election results have been disputed by Russian and international election watchers, who say United Russia's minority showing is inflated. The general consensus at protests that began in Moscow December 5 was that we had overestimated both the real level of support for United Russia at previous elections and the capabilities of the government to engage in electoral fraud. It has become clear that the ruling party is not ruling because of their electoral popularity.  

United Russia has lost the right to be regarded as the country's main political force. Its claims to express the will of the majority are untenable. What is going on is not a temporary setback or an accidental loss that can be made up for later. It is the corollary of attempts to create a political system that they call "manageable" or "sovereign" democracy. The result of even this "election" shows that the course proposed to "unite" Russia does not sit well with most Russians—it was clearly not supported by a majority of votes.

Any references to an expressed will of the voters in domestic and international issues are no more tenable. The authorities' opinion is only one of the many opinions competing in Russia; there are no reasons to consider it "Russia's opinion." The monopoly on power is in the past.

The technical details of the "election" testify to massive violations that distorted the voters' choices. Any random collation of final results with results from territorial electoral commissions indicates that United Russia's figures have been inflated by millions of votes. Analysis suggests that around 15 million votes counted for the ruling party were the result of cheating, fabrication, and a series of criminal offenses. At the very least, there are no reasons to believe that United Russia gathered more than 35 percent of the vote of those voters who really exist and personally voted.

The results of voting in several regions are so fundamentally at variance from those in the rest of Russia that nothing short of criminal malfeasance could explain it. There is no other explanation for what is happening in those regions. Third, the violations reported by observers in Moscow suggest that the election has been falsified, not only in the hinterlands, but in Russia's most populous regions.

Accordingly, the results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are subject to criminal investigation. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev have refused even to discuss the scale of electoral fraud, the use of administrative powers to put pressure on the voters, or the unfairness of the vote tabulation.

In this situation United Russia, the beneficiary of the fraud, cannot claim to have a majority of votes in the State Duma. That calls into question the legitimacy of the next State Duma. No "coalition government" is possible: any Russian government approved by this "legislature" will lack public support. Such a government would be selected by an illegitimate parliament elected by, and representing an unknown percentage of the population.

The presidential "election" will be held next spring. It is likely to be a rerun of the Duma elections—of 2011, 2007, and, to some extent, of 2003. However, that election will take place in a very different situation; voters will be more aware that the whole thing is fixed and that the ruling party cannot win without violations on a massive scale.

The only obvious way to keep the "non-systemic" opposition from growing is to lift Russia's limitations on political activities and effectively rewind to the 1999 status quo. The rulers are losing their monopoly on power. If the 2012 presidential election is held according to the 2011 Duma election script, more radical and less evolutionary strategies of change will become acceptable to the public. Now active opponents of the ruling party are in the thousands and tens of thousands. It may be too late for the authorities when we are in the hundreds of thousands.

Cancellation of the 2011 "Duma election" results and a new election without violations could avoid major problems for the entire country during the planned presidential elections and beyond.

As a classical liberal, it does not sit well with me that at parliamentary elections I have to choose between four types of kleptomaniacs and three types of socialists. Classical liberal and moderate parties were systematically excluded from the electoral processes. That left voters a choice between the kleptocrats in power and a lunatic-left official opposition that favors violent revolution for sacred ends. One result of a proper electoral policy will be to reopen the political competition to sane people. That will definitely be to the benefit of the people of Russia, as well as her neighbors.

Dmitriy Butrin is chief editor of the economics section of Kommersant and a daily columnist for InLiberty.ru.