Gubernatorial elections were held in the Primorye district in Eastern Russia, and the improbable victory of a less popular candidate has a number of Russian citizens wondering if the electoral process was tampered with. The Independent reports that in the last one percent of voting precincts to be counted, United Russia candidate Andrei Tarasenko, backed by both President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, earned a total of 13,000 extra votes. These votes accounted for almost 100 percent of the total vote, and led to Tarasenko’s sudden and unexpected triumph.
In the first round of voting, Tarasenko had 47 percent of the vote, and Ishchenko accounted for only 25 percent. Since neither rose above 50 percent, a run-off election was decided. Then, Tarasenko was sent a note of personal endorsement by Putin, saying everything was “going to be fine” in the next round of voting. And he proceeded to win by a miraculous margin of one percent.
Communist candidate Andrei Ishchenko (who was in the lead at five percentage points above Tarasenko according to The Washington Post), even lost five votes in the final push. Ishchenko has urged his followers to protest in Vladivostok, and recently he indicated that he will not “back down” from his hunger strike until the results are nullified and a re-election takes place.
Echoing this suspicion at the major turn the election took is Golos council member Vitaly Kovin. Part of an independent company that monitors elections, Kovin says, “the result was really unexpected for everyone. Otherwise the falsifications would not have been so crude and last minute.” In the publication Foreign Policy, deputy director of the Kennan Institute William Pomeranz describes the election as “a wake-up call” and “a genuine shock to the political system.”
Emma Pamfilova, the head of the Central Election Commission, released a statement to TASS, reassuring Ishchenko and the public amidst unease and distress. “Until we thoroughly analyze all the complaints that will be received, we will not sum up the results.”
Any threat to the democratic process is a threat to freedom and the power of the people. If it is true that the election was rigged in favor of Putin and the Kremlin’s candidate, then that proves Russia’s entire electoral system is in danger of fraudulence as well as governmental corruption. Russia is not an autocracy, which means the government cannot legally control who fills different authoritative positions. No president should be able to get away with engaging in acts of dictatorship and altering the natural outcomes of elections.
Nothing regarding falsified information is unprecedented in Russia. Many in the West view Russian politics through a critical and often negative lens following the reign of the communist regime of the Soviet Union which ended in 1991, and their alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The Russian federal semi-presidential republic is considered to be openly anti-communist, especially since Putin took over in 1999. Following his succession of the presidency as prime minister of Russia, The Guardian reports that in some instances Putin has controlled all mainstream media, taken up over 50 percent of television coverage, and punished those who failed to spread his propaganda with jail time, or worse. The Russian president even publicly turned a blind eye to the reports of a “gay genocide” happening in the republic of Chechnya, leading people to believe that the government had a hand in the shady disposal of those they felt were negligible.
Election officials have since announced that the votes for governor of Primorye will be cancelled, and a new election will take place in December. Sacbee notes that this is the first time in years that officials in Russia have responded to news of vote rigging. While this is a step in the right direction, there is much more progress to be made in Russia.
Whether Putin had a hand in stuffing the ballots or not, there needs to be a serious investigation of the Russian system as a whole in order to identify a common theme amongst these instances of electoral misconduct.
As long as Putin has control over the Kremlin and foreign leaders like President Trump, it seems unlikely that law and order will be enforced where it is needed to ensure fairness and the integrity of the republic. International powers and organizations within Russia should continue to keep the country’s secretive, corrupt government in check to ensure that citizens are safe and can access the full extent of their rights.
Putin insists that a democracy is not better than order, but any citizen under a dictatorship knows that they would rather have freedom and a voice over being controlled.
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