Source: Rajan Laad

Last week, nationwide parliamentary elections were held in Russia. The elections spanned over a period of three days from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19.

Leading contenders in this race were the United Russia party led by President Vladimir Putin and the Communist Party of Russia. Also in the race were the nationalist LDPR party, the Just Russia party, the New People party, and myriad independents.

The results were declared with the United Russia party winning nearly 50% of the votes while the Communist Party received around 19% of the vote. The United Russia party had around two-thirds of the 450 seats in the Russian parliament which is an absolute majority.

There were celebrations at the United Russia party headquarters.

But the elections, much like previous elections in Russian, were marred by widespread reports of rigging and fraud.

It began with President Putin’s most vocal critics being prevented from contesting these elections. Among them were allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Navalny came to prominence by organizing demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin and his government alleging widespread corruption. Jailing him, of course, on trumped-up charges, was widely seen as a tactic to keep Navalny himself from running for office.

Prior to the elections, allies of Navalny released an app called Smart Voting that functioned as an anti-Putin voter guide. The app used its algorithms to deduce which candidate had the best chance of beating candidates from the United Russia party. 

The Kremlin used all possible means to suppress the circulation of the names of these candidates and to block the application. Big Tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Telegram complied with the Kremlin’s demands and blocked apps, videos, and online documents related to Navalny’s initiative. About 50 websites run by Navalny’s allies were blocked, including the Smart Voting website.

Election watchers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were prevented from sending observers for the first time in nearly three decades due to “major limitations” imposed by Russian authorities. Also, independent Russian vote monitor Golos, who detailed voter fraud during the 2011 elections was branded a ‘foreign agent’ a month ahead of parliamentary elections.

In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, a pair of “clone candidates” having identical first and last names and a striking physical resemblance to one of the few opposition figures were registered to disorient and confuse voters.

Russia’s Ministry of Justice designated an investigative media outlet, activists, and several journalists as ‘foreign agents’ months ahead of the elections. The BBC’s Moscow correspondent was forced to leave Russia when the authorities refused to renew her visa.

Clearly, these draconian steps were taken to prevent and deter nonconformist voices from reporting on the elections.

There were major changes made to the method in which ballots were cast. Online voting was introduced for the very first time. The movement restriction owing to the pandemic was cited as the reason for this change.

Election officials said that the online voter turnout was around 93.21% in six Russian regions.

Numerous Communist Party candidates who were on track to a victory suddenly began to trail the United Russia party candidate once electronic votes were released. They eventually lost their seats.

The Communist Party candidate in a western Moscow district, led his United Russia rival by a 10,800-vote margin. But the electronic voting results were released, the United Russia candidate won by around 20,000 votes. The ‘losing’ candidate even tweeted about this in dismay.

Critics have claimed that electronic voting it makes easier to alter or fabricate votes.  Russia’s election commission had committed to releasing e-voting results to the public immediately after the polls were closed. However considerable delay caused widespread suspicion about the authenticity of the votes. State election monitors have committed to perform an audit of the results of online voting, But history seems to suggest that this is likely to be a futile exercise.

There were also reports of state employees being forced to vote online.

When there were serpentine lines of voters outside polling stations, voters were forcibly sent back for not following COVID-19 restrictions of social distance. 

There was also footage of workers at various poll stations surreptitiously stuffing ballot boxes with votes.

There were reports of ‘carousel’ voting — i.e., observers noticed the same groups of individuals voting at different polling stations within some locations. There were clashes reported between election monitors and poll workers.

The Russian Election Commission rubbished claims of widespread electoral fraud and asserted that only 25,830 votes were discovered to be invalid. They asserted that these votes did not alter the outcome.

The media celebrated the results as a supermajority mandate for President Vladimir Putin and also dismissed any claims of fraud. It has to be remembered that media critics of President Putin tend to have a very short life expectancy.

To sum it up there was ballot stuffing. There was an abrupt undoing of electoral leads by mass depositing of votes (electronically). Neutral observers were blocked. There was carousel voting. Big tech colluded with the establishment to suppress vital candidate information. There were changes enforced to the voting method under the pretext of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Russian Election Commission functioned as an arm of the establishment rather than an independent regulatory agency whose function is to facilitate free and fair elections.

Finally, the media, as it always does in Russia, functioned as a mouthpiece for the establishment.

This isn’t the first time this has occurred in Russia, there were allegations of similar electoral malpractice in the past.

It’s almost as if a user manual of electoral fraud is assiduously being followed.

This above seems like a familiar pattern and has been applied on many occasions when the establishment wants to prevent anyone they think will bring drastic changes to the status quo.

Perhaps you have seen, heard, or read about it fairly recently?

Joe Biden’s State Department released a statement that condemned Russia for conducting elections under conditions not conducive to free and fair proceedings.

There are unconfirmed reports that upon reading this statement irony departed Mother Earth and is hurtling around the galaxy in perennial bewilderment.