Grigorii Golosov: Dissecting Dead Elections

What to Expect from Dead Elections
Grigorii Golosov
Proekt
June 7, 2021

In journalism, there is the well-worn cliché of “dissecting elections.” This is when experts explain to the general public how the electoral system works, how election campaigns are run, and how votes are tallied. In a democracy, this knowledge is ordinarily not in high demand, because voters, as a rule, don’t care about such subtleties. People who go to the polling stations have preferences and emotions that they express by voting. The fine points matter a narrow stratum of politicized intellectuals. Rank-and-file voters regard elections respectfully, as one of the foundations of the democratic state, which they value, but they are not keen about its anatomical details.

Under authoritarianism, it would seem that elections merit no interest at all. After all, they don’t make it possible to change the government, let alone influence it in any tangible way. Their impact on the make-up of representative political bodies is insignificant, and on politics, negligible.

They are dead elections. And yet they are anything but inconspicuous.

On the contrary, the most high-profile events of recent months in Russia have been related to elections indirectly (like the crackdown on opposition organizations and activists) or directly (like United Russia’s so-called primaries). They have gone unremarked only by people who have completely isolated themselves from the daily grind of the Russian state and the propaganda servicing it. This is, of course, quite a healthy thing to do, but not everyone has the luxury of doing it.

Naturally, the hype will only increase over the summer, because presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has already promised us a literally red-hot campaign. Indeed, elections — and just such dead elections — are vital to modern authoritarian regimes. Elections perform many useful functions for autocracies. I could list all of them, but it suffices to point out their main function: unless the regime triumphs at the ballot box, it is difficult to explain why the people in government occupy the high-ranking posts they do.

Their power is not warranted by the right of succession, nor by their outstanding personal qualities, nor by their crystal clear vision of the prospects for social development. Naturally, there are other contenders for power, ready to take it simply because they want to. So the common idea that elections will be canceled as unnecessary is mistaken. This means that there is some point in dissecting dead elections, just as there is a point in dissecting dead bodies.

The basic principle of election pathology is simple: dead elections should look like the real thing, but still keep those who already hold power in power, allowing only a minimal rotation of minor figures. In keeping with this principle, authoritarian elections involve four main areas of tampering: (1) voting systems; (2) voter behavior; (3) voter choice; (4) vote counting. Let’s examine each of these areas separately.

In Russia, messing with the electoral system in the narrow sense of the term is a thing of the past. Readers may remember that for a time we had a purely proportional electoral system, in which we could vote only for party lists, not for single candidates. Its introduction was no accident and no matter of good intentions: it was meant to facilitate the emergence of the United Russia party and eradicate independent MPs. However, the 2011 State Duma elections, in which United Russia nearly lost its parliamentary majority, showed that a mixed system was more convenient, so they went back to it.

There is nothing particularly innovative about this. If we do the numbers we see that that mixed systems are more popular among autocracies than among democratic countries. And we know from experience why: even if United Russia fails to gain a parliamentary majority via its party list, it will make it up for it by winning in the single-member districts. It was the single-member districts that gave United Russia a constitutional majority in the current State Duma. We know what the consequences for the Russian Constitution have been. But, admittedly, room for further tweaking of the pathological particulars has mostly been exhausted. Going any further would involve embracing electoral systems in which all semblance of democracy is forfeited.

But there is still room for creativity when it comes to manipulating voters. Take, for example, United Russia’s “primaries.” Many people ask why the powers that be must play this expensive game at all, if it is known in advance and has been repeatedly borne out by experience that, ultimately, only those candidates approved by the Kremlin end up on the party lists. I will answer this question with a question of my own. Is there a better way to test the ability of the regional authorities to get voters to an event that is not even an election, whose meaninglessness is obvious to everyone involved? Primaries are an ideal vehicle for turning out the segment of populace dependent on the authorities and thus doing a practice run before the parliamentary campaign kicks off in earnest.

Turning the dependent populace out to vote has been the primary tool of the authorities in recent years. I should stress that we are talking about a mobilization of voters that can be carried out regardless of a campaign’s particular circumstances and definitely produce the expected result. It’s a myth that people who vote under duress can give the authorities the finger behind their back. These people are forced to go to the polls in order to vote for United Russia and that’s exactly what they do.

Sometimes op-ed writers wonder why, since the authorities are so interested in voter turnout, they don’t introduce mandatory voting, which exists in many (mostly democratic) countries. The electoral forensic pathologist answers this question as follows: because the authorities are not interested in turning out all voters, only those who can be expected to vote “correctly.”

If you drive everyone to the polls, it will irritate the populace. Then, perhaps, the “giving them the finger” scenario could come to pass. No, the authorities have to facilitate the turnout only of the most reliable voters, and these are the voters who are forced to vote a certain way.

When such innovations of recent years as multi-day and electronic voting are discussed, attention is often paid to their role in falsifying the results. However, another thing is equally important. It is much easier to administratively enforce turnout and control the behavior of voters if the vote is held over several days. And we have heard a lot about the effectiveness of using screenshots in electronic voting following the results of United Russia’s “primaries.” Perhaps new tricks will also arrive in time for the September elections. The scope for creativity, I repeat, is still wide.

Manipulating voter choice, of course, mainly involves limiting the number of parties and candidates allowed to stand in elections. The conditions for this were created at the dawn of Russian electoral authoritarianism, in 2004–2006, and have been continuously perfected since then. At first, as you know, the authorities tightened the screws to such an extent that the remaining parties could literally be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 2011 campaign, in which the opposition pursued the “vote for any other party” strategy, showed that this was not the optimal path for the authorities.

There are a lot of registered parties this time round. Among them, there are no truly oppositional parties, completely independent of the authorities, nor can there be. However, careful work is being done to generation the illusion of choice, as exemplified by the comic rebranding of the Communist Party of Social Justice as the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice.

Of course, the “big three” parties (i.e., the LDPR, the CPRF, and a Just Russia) remain the favorites among the “legal opposition.” Even the half-forgotten Just Russia has been patched up for the elections: it has been renamed and strengthened with valuable new personnel. The calculation of the authorities is simple: United Russia’s administrative advantage + propaganda + the scattering of votes among “projects” and spoilers + the refusal of opposition-minded voters to go to the polls = a United Russia majority even on the party-list votes alone.

The problem has come from unexpected quarters: from the single-member districts. Again, the mixed electoral system does generally benefit the authorities. However, it generated an opportunity for so-called smart voting – that is, for strategically choosing to vote for candidates who have a chance of defeating United Russia candidates, rather than trying to elect candidates preferred by opposition voters.

Smart voting is bane to the authorities not only because it can achieve its immediate goal, but also because it encourages opposition voters to turn out for elections. And if they show up, they definitely won’t vote for United Russia on the party list ballots.

Crackdowns have been the main way of solving the problem this year. They enable the authorities to remove potentially strong and at the same time genuinely oppositional candidates from the elections. The efforts of the authorities on this front have been striking and attracted wide attention, but the principal target, in my opinion, is different. Smart voting is a complex strategy that requires organizational infrastructure and systematic guidance. The politicians who are currently targeted by crackdowns are vital not so much as potential candidates — the authorities could have prevented them from running using any number of tried and true methods — but as crucial figures in this infrastructure. The same applies to independent media, as well as (and especially) the few remaining opposition organizations in the political arena. Over the last year, they have been literally torn up by the roots.

Of course, the authorities cannot completely eliminate the threat posed by smart voting. It is a flexible strategy that relies on unconventional methods of political mobilization. Moreover, the impact made by the current scale of crackdowns on public sentiment and on the behavior of voters may go against expectations. In my opinion, hysteria about “foreign agents,” “undesirable organizations,” and other horrors is counterproductive in terms of the regime’s survival, since it erodes its claims to adhere to the democratic principles, driving it into the trap in which Alexander Lukashenko now finds himself. However, the authorities are trying their darndest to do just that, and if they break their own skulls in the process, you cannot blame them for their lack of diligence.

This zeal is fueled not so much by fears of losing, but rather by the well-founded notion that the desired outcome can be achieved only through fraud.

Let’s not harbor any illusions: the outcome will not be honest in any case.

Given the direct disciplinary responsibility of regional governors for getting the “correct” percentages at the ballot box (percentages that are known in advance), Russian elections generate irresistibly strong incentives for skewing the vote count. The federal authorities, in principle, have a stake in ensuring that the scale of the fraud is not off the charts and is not particularly conspicuous. But I don’t think that this is a matter of serious concern to them. Unlike in 2011, there is simply no one capable of recording violations due to the lack of independent monitoring.

The pathology of authoritarian elections is universal. Nothing special is happening in Russia compared to other regimes of this type, from Chad to Singapore. And yet, the current events, especially in terms of pre-election crackdowns, seem a bit too much. However, the cause of the overkill is clear. The parliamentary elections are quite important, but they would hardly be worth the effort if there were not a much more important event happening in 2024. The presidential election will complete the “reset” operation, extending Vladimir Putin’s term in office for at least six (and most likely twelve) years. The authorities must prepare for this in such a way as to completely rule out surprises.Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist, dean of the political science department at the European University in St. Petersburg, and author of the book Autocracy, or the Loneliness of Power. Photo courtesy of Proekt. Translated by the Russian Reader

Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging

A Chronicle of Current Vote Rigging: The Russian National Referendum Through the Eyes of Observers of Petersburg 
July 16, 2020

This film by Observers of Petersburg shows how such how a high turnout (74.7%) and outcome (77.7% “yes” votes) were attained in Petersburg during the 2020 Russian national referendum.

Spoiler alert! All this was made possible by six days of early voting, which were impossible to monitor.

Time codes:
00:00 Opening
00:59 How will the 2020 vote be remembered?
02:44 Coronavirus: voting in a pandemic
06:12 Early voting
09:28 Voting at workplaces
13:20 Voting rolls
17:49 David Frenkel’s story: how a journalist’s arm was broken at a polling station
21:35 Observers from the Public Chamber
26:09 Vote counting
31:42 Honest polling station commissions
35:24 What will happen next? The Russian national referendum’s impact on future elections

Featuring:
Anastasia Romanova
Maria Moldavskaya
Dmitry Neuymin
Konstantin Korolyov
Olga Dmitrieva
Galina Kultiasova
Mikhail Molochnikov
Polina Kostyleva
Olga Khmelevskaya
Maria Chebykina
Natalia Yegorushkina
David Frenkel
Ivan Kvasov

The film was produced by Yulia and Yevgeny Selikhov.
Thanks to iz0 for doing the animation.

Sign a petition against multi-day voting.

Sign up to be a polling station commission member in Petersburg: https://airtable.com/shrHdcpxEuKq9f9o2

Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the link. The video’s title is an allusion to the Soviet-era samizdat periodical Chronicle of Current Events. Annotation translated by the Russian Reader

УИК 40 СПбCounting the votes at Polling Station No. 40 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle

Yavka

gub_exit_04The turnout (yavka) for last September’s gubernatorial election in Petersburg was a record low of thirty percent. Less than a year later (at the height of summer, in the midst of a pandemic), the turnout for a meaningless “referendum” on amendments to the Russian constitution (which had already been ratified by both houses of parliament and signed into law by Putin) drew a record high turnout of 74% in Petersburg, according to local political blog Rotunda. Graphic courtesy of Fontanka.ru

Rotunda 
Telegram
July 2, 2020

The turnout [yavka] in St. Petersburg for the December 2011 elections to the State Duma waos 55%.

For the presidential election in March 2012, it was 64% (Vladimir Putin took 62% of the vote.)

For the gubernatorial elections in September 2014, it was 39%. (Georgy Poltavchenko won 79% of the vote.)

For the parliamentary elections in September 2016, it was 32%.

Turnout in St. Petersburg for the presidential elections in March 2018 was 63%. (Vladimir Putin took 75%.)

The turnout for the Petersburg gubernatorial election in September 2019 was 30% (Alexander Beglov won with a result of 64%.)

The turnout for the poll on amendments to the Constitution in the summer of 2020 was 74%. (77.6% voted “Yes.”)

Rotunda is a Telegram channel on Petersburg politics run by journalists Maria Karpenko (@mkarpenka) and Ksenia Klochkova (@kklochkova). You can write to them at: rotondaa [at] protonmail.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

Election Observers

election observerArtist, activist and teacher Darya Apahonchich found this “polling place” in the courtyard of her building in downtown Petersburg, across the street from the city’s Dostoevsky Museum. Early voting is under way in a nationwide referendum on 206 proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution. Courtesy of Darya Apahonich’s Facebook page

approvalFilmmaker Andrey Silvestrov took this selfie with his ballot paper at his polling place in Moscow. The question reads, “Do you approve [the] changes to the Russian Constitution?” Silvestrov voted no, of course. Note the fact that none of the amendments in question is listed on the ballot paper. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page

prizesFortunately, Silvestrov’s “no” vote will not, one hopes, disqualify him from entering the “Million Prizes” program, as outlined on a flyer he was given by polling place officials along with his ballot paper. Voters are asked to send a “unique code” in a text message to the number 7377. Winners are promised “gift certificates” redeemable for groceries, sporting goods, and household goods, and for unspecified goods at pharmacies, cafes, museums, theaters, and cinemas. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the “gift certificates” (if any Russian voters actually receive them) will prove worthless. Photo courtesy of Silvestrov’s Facebook page

lurie precinctPhotographer Vadim F. Lurie took a snapshot of the referendum polling place in the courtyard in a town in the Moscow Region. Courtesy of his Facebook page. While the purported reason for such bizarre ad hoc polling places is ensuring health of voters during the coronavirus pandemic, still raging in many parts of Russia, they provide the added benefit of making it much harder for election observers to ascertain whether the referendum was conducted freely and fairly. Needless to say, “free and fair” is a meaningless concept to the Putin regime.

dictatorship of zerosJournalist and political activist Ivan Ovsyannikov took this snapshot outside Polling Station No. 1641, located on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg. The placard reads, “Our country, our constitution, our decision.” Someone has pasted a sticker on the placard, which reads, “The solidarity of ones will end the dictatorship of zeroes.” This is reference to the fact that one of the proposed amendments, if ratified, will “zero out” Vladimir Putin’s previous terms as Russian president, thus allowing him to run for two more consecutive terms of six years. If this scenario comes to pass, Putin would be able to rule until 2036. His current presidential term ends in 2024.

Konstantin Yankauskas and Alexander Zamyatin, popularly elected municipal councilors in the Zyuzino District of Moscow, discuss what their constituents can do to oppose the referendum under near impossible circumstances (the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on public campaigning against the amendments, evidence that thousands of state sector employees are either being forced to vote yes or hand over their passwords for electronic voting to their supervisors, etc.) They also reflect on why the Russian opposition has been unable to run a nationwide “no” campaign despite the fact that formal and informal barometers of public opinion have shown that Putin’s popularity has been falling and that many Russians are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The discussion was broadcast live on YouTube on June 24, 2020.

Leokadia Frenkel: How to Defeat Russia’s Ruling Party in Your Own Neighborhood

lika-1.jpgLeokadia Frenkel talks to local residents protesting vote rigging. Photo by David Frenkel

“I Realized They Were Getting Ready to Throw the Election”: A Petersburg Woman Talks About How She Fought Three Days to Have the Real Vote Tally Confirmed
Leokadia Frenkel is a member of the election commission in Petersburg’s Vladimirsky Municipal District, where not a single United Russia candidate was elected
Sofia Volyanova
TJournal
September 12, 2019

Three days after Russia’s nationwide election day on September 8, the results of the municipal district council races in Petersburg had not been officially announced. In four districts where ruling United Russia party candidates did not win a majority of seats on the councils, the election commissions postponed their final meetings. In the Vladimirsky Municipal District, all the ruling party’s candidates had lost, according to preliminary vote tallies. The Yabloko Party had won twelve seats, while five seats had gone to independent candidates, and three seats to A Just Russia.

At some of the polling stations where opposition candidates were leading, election officials decided to recount the votes. As a consequence, United Russia candidates suddenly took the lead, while independent candidates were robbed of critical votes.

Leokadia Frenkel, a voting member of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission, told TJournal how she and the winning candidates prevented such vote rigging in her own district. She was forced to sleep in the district council building and was assaulted by the election commission’s deputy chairwoman, who attempted to lock Frenkel in an office.

__________________________________________________

On election day, I arrived at the Central District administration building, where our municipal district election commission is located, at seven in the morning. We invalidated ballots, then I got the papers I had to take to the different polling stations and I delivered them. I communicated with the polling station election commissions and monitored what was happening. At eight in the evening, I returned to the Central District building, where we invalidated the rest of the ballots that needed invalidating.

We did not receive a single complaint during the voting and the vote counts. Everything was completely fair and square. I had no complaints with the commission chair.

“The polling station election commission chairs will go with me, and we will enter the results into GAS [automated state elections system],” she said.

But then, during the night, someone told us all the election commission chairs had been sent home and no one had entered their vote tallies into GAS because it was down. We learned this completely by accident. I asked the secretary of the municipal district election commission what had happened, why the vote tallies had not been entered into GAS, and why the commission chairs had been sent home. She said something was broken, but we checked and nothing was broken. They were playing for time: they needed an excuse to do a recount. That was when we realized the fix was in and we spent the night in the administration building.

Why did I stay there? I was afraid they would convene the municipal district election commission without me. I wanted to be there and register my dissenting opinion if there was a recount.

The winning candidates slept there, too, because the ballots had been packed up and stored in the basement. They were making sure the ballots were not stolen. There were advisory and voting members of the polling station commissions who had done their jobs honestly and wanted to prevent electoral fraud.

The commission had left in the wee hours of September 9, saying it would reconvene at four in the afternoon. But it did not show up at four in the afternoon. We kept waiting, finally filing complaints with the Territorial Election Commission and the Central Election Commission.

We spent the whole day in the building. The very nice, hospital head of the Central District talked to us and gave us chairs so we would not have to lie on the floor. Our friends supplied us with food and water.

We spent over twenty fours in that building.

The head of the district communicated the City Election Commission’s decision to us and said all the chairs of the polling station election commissions would be gathering and all the final vote tallies would be entered into GAS.

When the chair of the commission showed up, she summoned all the polling station chairs. At nine in the evening, they started entering the vote tallies into GAS. The results were entered correctly: there was no vote rigging.

But the fact is that the chair of our municipal district election commission did not come and pick up the results. First, she said they were not ready, although they were ready. She was supposed to collect them and hold a final meeting of the commission to confirm the vote tally and the list of winning candidates. Many independent candidates and new people won seats on the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council. No one from United Russia was among the victors, so maybe they were angry or somehow affiliated with the municipal district council.

Leokadia Frenkel sleeping outside the office of the deputy head of the Central District

After the vote tallies were entered into the GAS, I went home and the next day I was busy with my own affairs. But the final sitting of the commission had not been held nor had the documents been collected. I telephoned the chair and asked what the matter was. So I would not worry, she said the meeting would be held and everything would be fair and square.

At nine in the morning on September 11, the candidates telephoned me and said that certain polling station commission chairs had shown up at the municipal council for some unknown purpose. So I also went to the municipal district election commission, once again asking when our final session would be held and why the paperwork, which had long been ready, had not been picked up.

The deputy chair was the only one in the office, so I asked her. I saw a paper on her desk with no date or registry number. It was a complaint, filed by United Russia candidate Igor Kartsev, who requested a recount.  I realized they were getting ready to throw the election. Instead of getting ready for the final meeting, they were grooming people affiliated with them to file complaints requesting a recount, as was happening in other municipal districts, in order to steal the victory from the independent candidates.

I took the complaint in order to photograph it when the deputy chair attacked me from behind. She tried to snatch the letter from me and destroy it.  There were many people present, including the candidates and voting members of our commission. One of them grabbed the complaint, which the deputy chair tried to snatch from me, in order to save it from destruction. He photographed it and posted it on social media.

Vladimirsky Municipal District Election Commission deputy chair attacked @likafrenk, a voting member of the commission from Yabloko, to stop her from seeing documents and complaints that would trigger a recount. The voting member managed to escape despite the fact that the deputy chair tried not to let her out, but now the deputy chair claims it was she who was attacked. She was taken away in an ambulance.

The deputy chair tried to lock me in the office and prevent from getting out by holding the door shut. There was a slight tussle: I wedged my foot in the doorway, but she tried to hit me with the door so I could not get out. When she let go of the door, I escaped. I filed a complaint with the City Election Commission, explaining that I had found a strange document. I also wrote that I was afraid, since the final commission meeting had not been held, that they were planning to throw the election.

I filed a complaint with the police about the attack and the fact that the municipal district election commission had tried to destroy the documents I had turned up. And I went to the emergency room and had the doctors there document the injury I suffered when the deputy chair hit me with the door to keep me looked in her office. I ended up with a bruise on my leg, of course.

The commission is located in the building where the municipal council has its offices. The police and an ambulance were summoned. Allegedly, either someone hit someone else or I hit someone. But I could not have hit anyone because I was on the other side of the door, in an office where there was nowhere else. Complaints were filed to the effect that I had, allegedly, absconded with certain documents, but I had not stolen them. I was in the commission office and the deputy chair would not let me out. I could not have stolen the documents.

Also, the deputy chairwoman filed a complaint that someone had hit her in the hallway or something to that effect. She also had her alleged injuries documented at the emergency room, and she was taken to hospital.

I don’t know what is going on here, but it all began when the incumbent council members got a look at the vote tallies. When they realized they had lost in all the districts, they postponed the final commission meetings and the announcements of the results. First, they put off entering the results into GAS, but when the actual, correct results were entered into the system, they tried to put off holding the final commission meetings.

Holding a recount is one way of switching out ballots and substituting them with fake ballots. But they still have to be signed by two commission members, at least. They want to switch the ballots and recount the votes. What are they fighting for? They want a majority on the council. They want to prevent the independent candidates for gaining a majority on the council and then electing their own chair.

Tomorrow is the last day when they can hold the final, wrap-up session, and now social media are reporting that, allegedly, the municipal district election commissions are going to be meeting at the Central District administration building and, allegedly, the election results will be confirmed in keeping with the vote tallies that the polling station election commissions arrived at fair and square.

lika-3.jpg
Leokadia Frenkel. Photo by David Frenkel

It is now the evening of September 11, and a rather large number of people have gathered outside the offices of the Vladimirsky Municipal District Council, including the winning independent candidates, commission members outraged by the fact that the authorities have been trying to throw the election. These people have said they will not go home because the authorities are trying to throw the election.

The winning candidates spent the whole day picketing the municipal district election commission and demanding the immediate confirmation of the results. But just now the police detained someone here. [It later transpired that a young woman conducting a solo picket protesting vote rigging had been detained. She did not have a local residence permit, so she was put into a police car, but she was released after the police checked her return tickets — TJournal.]

I came here to see what was going on. Everything is closed, but people have gathered here all the same. The candidates called local residents who signed petitions to get them on the ballot and told them the authorities were trying to steal their votes, and so these residents have also come.

The candidates are going to stand guard at the Central District administration building. As soon as they see that the chair has shown up, I will also run over there. If a recount is demanded, a report will be issued. I will send a dissenting opinion to the City Election Commission and the Central Election Commission and tell them there was vote rigging and a recount.

All the rough stuff lies ahead of us. Now, however, I don’t see anything rough happening. I see lots of young people who are determined to fight. They are proactive and positive. Of course, it would be a blow to me if everything into which we have put so much effort is declared null and void, if there is a recount and they steal the victory. But we plan to fight.

I have only positive thoughts. I did not expect the opposition to win, but win they did in all the districts. This is the first time when people who deserve to win have won. In this sense, it was fair and square. There was nothing like this in past elections. Nobody wanted to vote. Suddenly young people the candidates, their friends and their aidesappeared on the scene, and it’s great. I have seen another world, a world of young people.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Hand It Over

moscow highway serviceMoscow’s streets are, apparently, reserved for planet-killing traffic jams and idiotic displays of state power, like this parade of trucks by the Moscow Highway Service. Yesterday, another of the city’s municipal agencies, which are run as profit-making “state enterprises,” Moscow City Transport, won a 1.2 million-ruble lawsuit against opposition leaders and independent city council candidates for the losses it incurred, allegedly, during the July 27 protest rally in support of independent candidates barred from running in the September 8 elections. A raft of other frivolous lawsuits against the opposition is coming down the pike by way of punishing them for their persistence and their tactical victory this past Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Moscow Highway Service

Hand It Over: Court Awards Moscow City Transport 1.2 Million Rubles in Suit Against Opposition Politicians
Maria Litvinova
Kommersant
September 11, 2019

Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, and Vladimir Milov must jointly pay Moscow City Transport (Mosgortrans) 1.2 million rubles [approx. $18,000] for the losses it incurred due to traffic stoppages during the “unauthorized” protest rally on July 27 in Moscow. Such was the ruling made on Tuesday by the Koptevo District Court on the lawsuit brought by Moscow City Transport. The defendants were unsuccessful in their attempt to demand financial documents showing the losses. They argued that public transport was poorly organized and also pointed out the large-scaled public events held by the mayor’s office in the downtown area.

Moscow City Transport filed a suit against Alexei Navalny, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Yulia Galyamina, Ilya Yashin, Alexander Solovyov, Oleg Stepanov, Georgy Alburov, and Vladimir Milov, who were involved, allegedly, in organizing the July 27 protest rally dedicated to the course of the Moscow City Duma election campaign [sic]. The plaintiff claimed that public transport ground to a halt on several streets due to the blocking of roads by people who took part in the “unauthorized” event and the company incurred losses. Moscow City Transport sought 1.2 million rubles in damages from the members of the opposition.

The hearing at the Koptevo District Court was attended by legal counsel for the defendants, including Alexander Pomazuyev (Sobol and Stepanov), Oksana Oparenko and Sergei Badamshin (Solovyov), Vadim Prokhorov (Yashin), and Andrei Tamurka (Galyamina), as well as Vladimir Milov, who was barred from running in the elections, and his lawyer Valentina Frolova. Navalny and Zhdanov neither attended the hearing nor sent their lawyers. Moscow City Transport’s lawyers refused to give their names to reporters.

Judge Vera Petrova opened the hearing by rejecting a number of motions made by the defendants. In particular, the opposition politicians had asked for a financial report from Moscow City Transport for July 2019 showing the losses, as well as the logbooks of its bus drivers. According to Pomazuyev, it was impossible to substantiate Moscow City Transport’s calculations and corroborate the alleged losses.

The defendants had also moved to have officers of the Russian National Guard and the Interior Ministry, who, they claimed, had blocked roads, named as co-defendants, but the court turned them down.

The defense argued that when it refused to examine key documents the court had taken the plaintiff’s side. Its subsequent motion, asking for the judge to recuse herself, was also denied.

During the trial, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers admitted there had been traffic congestion in different parts of Moscow on July 27 but was unable to explain why the protest rally was the reason for the lawsuit.

Moscow City Transport had identified the persons liable for its losses on the grounds that they had already been convicted on administrative charges for their involvement in the “unauthorized” rally and they had published posts on social media encouraged people to turn out for the event.

The defendants and their lawyers wondered why they had been singled out given the fact that numerous people had either been detained at the protest rally or posted about it on social media.

“There were endless numbers of people on the internet who encouraged people to come out for the event,” a lawyer for the plaintiff conceded, “but we chose to sue these people.”

The lawyers for the defense rejected the claim their clients had encouraged people to block streets. They presented the court with a list of the streets traveled by the buses that, allegedly, got stuck in traffic due to the protest rally in downtown Moscow. For example, Bus No. 137 travels from Belovezhskaya Street to Kyiv Station without going through downtown.

Milov told the court that the documents presented by the plaintiff pointed to “traffic congestion,” not the “blocking of roads.”

“Because of traffic jams, it took me two and a half hours to get here today. Moscow City Transport should sue the Moscow mayor’s office for its poor job of regulating traffic,” he said.

“Moscow City Transport handles the sale of transport tickets in ticket offices around the city,” he said. “Passengers put down their money and decide for themselves when to use the tickets they buy. So, you do not incur losses when buses are stuck in traffic but make money hand over fist.”

The defense argued that the Moscow mayor’s office regularly blocked roads in order to hold city-sponsored events, but Moscow City Transport had never once sued the mayor’s office for losses.

Moscow City Transport’s lawyers countered that the mayor’s office always compensated them for losses.

“If you had compensated us, we would have no claim against you,” one of them said.

Frolova reminded the court of the “burden of responsibility” borne by the public authorities.

“How are the rights of people who enjoy dumplings and pancakes [a reference to the festivals regularly organized downtown by the mayor’s office—Kommersant] any different from the rights of people who are voicing their civic stance?” she asked.

The defendants insisted on the political nature of the court case, arguing it had to do with the elections to the Moscow City Duma.

“The elections are over, people voiced their opinion, let’s get back to the law,” Badamshin said to the judge.

“The court has ruled in favor of the plaintiff,” said Judge Vera Petrova, putting an end to the arguments.

The court rejected the suit in relation to one of the co-defendants, Georgy Alburov. The money will be recovered from all the other co-defendants jointly and severally.

Several other private firms, state-owned companies, and state agencies plan to seek compensation from the opposition, in particular, the Moscow Highway Service, the Moscow subway, the taxi service, the staffing company Ancor, the car rental company Fly Auto and, as transpired yesterday, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Two Years Hard Time for Grabbing a Policeman by the Arm

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Prisoners of the Article 212 Case
Facebook
September 3, 2019

Yet another guilty verdict and yet another hefty prison sentence.

A court has found Danila Beglets guilty and sentenced him to two years in a medium-security penal colony. Beglets was accused of grabbing a policeman by the arm when the latter was detaining protesters.

Beglets has two small children. He is a businessman and the only breadwinner in his family.

Photo of Danila Beglets and his family courtesy of Prisons of the Article 212 Case. Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. Ivan Podkopayev, another defendant in the Article 2012 case, was found guilty earlier today. He was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for, allegedly, spraying pepper spray in the direction of police officers.

P.P.S. Not all the news from the Article 212 Case was bad. Criminal charges against defendants Daniil Konon, Sergei Abanichev, Vladislav Barabanov, and Valery Kostenok were dropped today.

Bortko Jumps Overboard

bortko (gleb morev).jpgCampaign poster for Vladimir Bortko in downtown Petersburg: “Bortko: The City Has a Choice. September 8. CPRF.” Photo by Gleb Morev

Bortko Withdraws from Petersburg Gubernatorial Election, Ensuring Beglov Victory in First Round: Northern Capital’s Acting Governor Now Faces Only Two Opponents
Yelena Mukhametshina
Vedomosti
September 2, 2019

Filmmaker and Communist Party MP Vladimir Bortko has withdrawn from the governor’s race in Saint Petersburg. He announced this on Friday during a televised debate. Experts said his departure was necessary to secure a victory for acting governor Alexander Beglov in the first round of voting, scheduled for September 8.

At a press conference, Bortko said he asked the other candidates to withdraw due to possible vote-rigging after it transpired polling stations would be opened in Leningrad Region and Pskov Region.

“If I had not withdrawn, the methods for rigging the vote would have been employed to the hilt and we would have been looking at 200,000 to 250,000 extra votes. But I don’t want to get seventeen or eighteen percent and an honorable mention for second place.”

Admitting the Smolny [Petersburg city hall] had helped get him through the so-called municipal filter, Bortko said his withdrawal had been his own spontaneous decision and that the president’s first deputy chief of staff, Sergei Kiriyenko, had tried to talk him out of it.

Meanwhile, last week, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote on Instagram that he and Bortko had discussed the idea for a new TV film about the 1812 war against Napoleon.

Bortko is the second parliamentary party candidate to withdraw from the Petersburg elections. Earlier, Oleg Kapitanov, an LDPR member of the Petersburg Legislative Assembly, accepted Beglov’s offer to take up a post in the city government. The acting governor now faces only two opponents: Mikhail Amosov (Civic Platform) and Nadezhda Tikhonova (A Just Russia).

Bortko said the Communist Party did not know about his decision. But our source inside the part said Bortko had informed party chair Gennady Zyuganov about his intentions early last week. The Communists had talked Bortko out of withdrawing but he changed his mind.

Our source admitted it was possible that Bortko had been used “without his knowledge” as “an emotional person,” but thought it was unlikely that Beglov could not have won in the first round without his help. He did not believe Kiriyenko had tried to talk Beglov out of it.

Zyuganov said the party would evaluate Bortko’s actions after the elections.

Earlier, a source close to the Kremlin told Vedomosti that Bortko’s support rating had climbed to nearly thirty percent and thus increased the likelihood of a second round.

Another source close to the Kremlin said Beglov did not have enough support to win in the first round: fewer than fifty percent of Petersburgers who were polled said they would vote for him.

Two other sources close to the Kremlin told us about the danger of a second round.

“The expectation is some older voters who supported Bortko could switch their support to Beglov,” one of them said.

Bortko’s name will now be manually stricken from the ballots. Dmitry Krasnyansky, a member of the Petersburg City Elections Commission, said the electronic ballot boxes set up at a quarter of polling stations provided for this option.

“However, this has to be done with maximum precision. If it’s a little crooked, it won’t read. It’s a real problem. In such cases, the electronic ballot box would simply be turned off,” Krasnyansky said.

One of our sources argued that, in this case, there would be “great opportunities for adjusting the final vote tallies.”

Political consultant Grigory Kazankov argued Bortkov’s withdrawal would not help Beglov in any way since Beglov was his own worst enemy.

“Beglov has no strong opponents. The situation is similar to the one faced by Governor Svetlana Orlova in the Vladimir Region in 2018. She lost to the LDPR candidate. Whether the election is legitimate or not will depend on whether it is run properly. So the question is whether the votes will be counted honestly or, as is usually the case in Petersburg, there are controversies,” Kazankov said.

Bortko’s withdrawal suits the powers that be since it will lower voter turnout. If the turnout was around thirty percent, the majority of Petersburgers who come to the polls would be pro-government voters, argued political consultant Valentin Bianchi.

“No matter what anyone says now, everyone will assume the government got Bortko to withdraw. This is a minus sign for the authorities, and for Beglov in particular. Although Bortko is a creative type, he’s a rational man. His meeting with Medinsky could be the piece of the puzzle that explains what happened,” Bianchi said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Pskov Region: Copyright Trumps Voting Rights

Yabloko Candidate in Pskov Region Barred from Election for Not Crediting Composer in Campaign Videos
Novaya Gazeta
August 30, 2019

A court in the Pskov Region has disqualified Yabloko Party candidate Sofia Pugachova from standing in the election for the post of head of the Novorzhev District due to the fact that the composer of the music used in her campaign videos was not credited, according to Lev Schlosberg, a member of the Pskov Regional Assembly.

“There was no copyright violation since the composer had consented to use of his piece. The original agreements, in English and Russian, were submitted to the court. The court, however, failed to react to this evidence, not even mentioning it in its ruling,” explained Schlosberg, adding there was a danger similar lawsuits would be filed in the Pustoshka District and Pushkin Hills District.

Schlosberg said the videos did not credit the composer, but when the error was caught, the videos were removed from the web and replaced with new ones.

The music in question was the Italian composer Daniele Dinaro’s Lux.

Pugachova said that Alexei Ivanov, the Growth Party’s rival candidate for the same post, had petitioned the court to disqualify her.

“They could not find fault with anything else, so they found this way of barring me from the election. The court even questioned whether the composer’s signature on the agreement was genuine. That was why we also entered into evidence a video showing Dinaro signing the agreement with us,” Pugachova said.

She argues that the court’s ruling was completely illegal and is currently preparing to appeal it.

Translated by the Russian Reader