Russian Opposition Parties Allege Mass Election Fraud

Opposition parties in Russia are alleging that mass election fraud occurred during the recent parliamentary elections, which resulted in a victory by Putin’s United Russia Party, according to Reuters. With this victory, United Russia (UR) will have a 2/3 majority in the Duma (the lower house of parliament), which will allow UR to push legislation through without consulting other parties.

Reuters reported that opposition candidates were leading in more than half of the election districts until the electronic votes were counted. ABC added that critics began questioning the validity of the process once the online vote counting began taking significantly longer than the paper ballot count. This is usually considered a sign that officials are figuring out how much the results need to be altered.

The U.S. State Department’s spokesperson Ned Price stated that the Russian government engaged in “widespread efforts to marginalize independent political figures” according to a report from ABC. Additionally, the British Foreign Ministry has called the election a setback for democratic freedom. Regardless of fraud claims, the voter turnout was only 52%. When asked about the election, a Moscow-based hairdresser reportedly said, “I don’t see the point in voting. It’s all been decided for us anyway,” demonstrating that fraudulent actions are to be expected at this point in Russian politics.

The outcry against the election comes after what many considered to be a historic crackdown on the opposition. Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most vocal critic, was imprisoned in January after returning from Germany where he believes he was poisoned at the order of Putin, according to an NPR report. Navalny’s supporters were deemed as extremists by Putin’s government in June of this year, just in time to bar them from the parliamentary elections.  Despite threats of detainment, over 1,000 protesters gathered in Pushkin Square in Moscow on Saturday to voice their opposition to what they call a stolen election, according to the Moscow Times. While Russian police did not detain anyone during the protest, some notable opposition leaders, including Sergei Udaltsov, were detained before the event. Moreover, the Moscow Times also reported that in an attempt to disrupt the protest, the police blared music to drown out the speakers.

Some commendable efforts to conduct protest voting, which mainly occurred within Moscow, amounted to wide support for the Communist Party to create an oppositional backing that could contend with Putin’s party. Additionally, while considering the possibility of mass election fraud, NDTV reported that the UR party still saw a decrease in voter support in this election, tallying 49.8%, as opposed to its 54.2% from the 2016 elections. On the other hand, the Communist Party saw an increase in voter support, raising its percentage of voters to 18.9% from its 13.3 % in 2016.

ABC News notes more ominously that United Russia’s new parliamentary power would allow it to alter Russia’s constitution, which could have serious implications for everything from further crackdowns on domestic opposition groups to increased security threats throughout the wider European region.

This accusation of election fraud against Putin’s party is not unique. In the 2018 Russian presidential elections, Putin won a startlingly large majority of the votes, despite there being multiple reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, according to the Chicago Tribune. Additionally, many U.S. intelligence officers found evidence that Russian officials had interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election process, which resulted in a victory for Donald Trump, representing a historical breach in the integrity of the American election process.

The pattern of Russian election interference both in Russia and abroad, paired with the fairly recent efforts to ramp up the detainment of opposition figures allude to a more dangerous pattern facing the future reliability of democracies. To dissuade the Russian government from conducting future election interference efforts, the international community must continue to increase the visibility into such elections through support for journalists, photographers, and government oversight organizations such as Amnesty International, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and others. By ramping up media coverage surrounding Russian governmental actions, the international community can begin the process of holding the Russian government accountable for its actions against its constituents.