The World Today for September 17, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

RUSSIA

How to Win Big

Boris Vishnevsky was shocked when he saw the names and faces of his two opponents in the upcoming elections to the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma. His rivals were both named Boris Vishnevsky. Both were around his age and sported beards like him.

There was little doubt about what was happening, he said. Vishnevsky is a member of Yabloko, a Liberal political party, in St. Petersburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party had put his doppelgangers on the ballot to confuse voters.

“Apparently, my chances to win are estimated as very high, so now they have to resort to these dirty schemes,” Vishnevsky told CNN. “This speaks of a high assessment of my merits and of the level of my support in town. You know, this is not the way you fight weak candidates.”

Such moves show how Putin wants a big win when Russian voters go to the polls from Sept. 17 to 19, wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

United Russia has a supermajority in the Duma. Putin’s authority in the country is unquestioned for now. But the country’s poor economy since the 2008 global financial crisis, softer oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic has squeezed ordinary Russians. Dissatisfaction with widespread corruption has also eroded United Russia’s support. The party lost almost a third of its seats in the Moscow City Council elections in 2019.

In the upcoming Duma elections, United Russia is expected to garner only 26 percent of the vote, its lowest percentage in 13 years, Voice of America noted. Opposition leaders said Putin is pulling out the stops to demonstrate that his rule is legitimate and avoid embarrassment.

The local Russian press has already published leaked recordings of officials training election workers in how to commit fraud to help the party, reported Radio Free Europe. Russia has also banned international groups from observing the polls, labeling them “foreign agents,” a term that was commonly applied to human rights activists and others during the Soviet era.

Nearly 15 percent of workers at industrial plants have allegedly faced pressure from their bosses to vote in the election. Some of those workers told the Moscow Times that they had planned not to vote because they didn’t see anyone worthy of their support. Though some also said they weren’t told to vote for a specific candidate, Roman Yuneman, a former independent politician who now runs the election watchdog Your Choice, argued such workers typically feel like they’re being watched when they enter the voting booth.

A Moscow court banned Russian search engine Yandex from displaying results for the phrase “smart voting,” added Forbes, because it’s part of campaign efforts by the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020, Navalny is now in jail on fraud charges that he maintains are bogus and politically motivated.

It all brings the term “grip on power” to a new level.

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