Russia: To Vote or Not To Vote?

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

As the Russian parliamentary election approaches, the Internet is fast becoming the main stage for the debate on the election strategy that the Russian opposition should take.

Despite manipulation and censorship, the web plays an important role in choosing an intelligent strategy to combat the ruling United Russia party's dominance.


August 2011 has shown the lowest popular support for the current government in the last six years, with only 36 percent [ru] of Russians agreeing with the statement that the country is going in the right direction. Thirty nine percent [ru] of the population (compared to 47 percent just a year ago) would vote for Vladimir Putin, and even less for the current president, Vladimir Medvedev. United Russia had also lost support [ru], from 64 percent of the voting population in 2009 to 54 percent at present.

Comparison of Electoral and Social media data, 2007-2011. Compiled by Alexey Sidorenko

* Based on the August poll by Comparison of electoral and social media data, 2007-2011. Compiled by Alexey Sidorenko.

Andrey Malgin has leaked [ru] some insider information on the perception of the situation inside the United Russia party:

Позавчера я ужинал с депутатом Думы от “Единой России”, отвечающим за выборы в одном из регионов. […] задача ставится не достигнуть конституционного большинства (это невозможно даже при массовых фальсификациях), а дотянуть любыми силами до 50.
Они уверены, что главным врагом на предстоящих выборах у них будет интернет. Не было ни одного совещания на тему выборов, где не звучала бы фамилия Навальный и не проводились бы конспирологические параллели с африканскими событиями. Главная головная боль – как ограничить распространение негативной информации, способной повлиять на результаты голосования; как скомпрометировать интернет в целом и не дать ему стать инструментом объединения масс. Даже задача компрометации участвующих на выборах партий отошла на второй план.

The day before yesterday I had dinner with a “United Russia” deputy, who is responsible for the elections in one of the regions. […] The task for them is not to get the Constitutional majority [two thirds of the seats] (it is impossible even with the mass falsifications), but to get to at least 50%.


They're sure that the Internet is their most important enemy. There has not been a single meeting on the topic of elections, where the name Navalny [infamous anti-corruption blogger] has not been heard, and where conspirology parallels with the African events haven't been made*. The main headache [of “United Russia”] is how to limit the distribution of negative information that is capable of influencing the results of the elections; how to discredit the Internet as a whole, and to prevent it becoming an instrument for the unification of the masses. Even the discrediting of the participating parties has lost its importance.

Indeed, talk about the Internet as a key revolutionary element provoke more and more furious statements by public officials. The will to control the RuNet was expressed this year by the Ministry of Interior, Prosecutor General, and most eloquently by Vasiliy Yakemenko, head of the Federal Youth Agency and an unspoken leader of the notorious “Nashi” pro-Kremlin movement (read the detailed analysis of Yakemenko's statement at Sean's Russia Blog).

It seems, however, that the real danger of the web for the ruling party lies not in its attributed mobilisation power (still arguable, wherever it exists or not), rather in the creation of free and public platforms for postulating, choosing, and, most importantly promoting an intelligent alternative electoral strategy.

The poster agitating to vote for any other party but "United Russia," By RosAgit

The poster agitating to vote for any other party but "United Russia," By RosAgit

To vote, or not to vote?

Opposition politicians had so far proposed three solutions. All of them were presented exclusively online and have been widely discussed via online platforms – a phenomena that was not fully present in the last (2007) presidential election campaign.

  • Boycott the election completely. The point of view was supported by such famous opposition politicians as Garry Kasparov [ru] (his idea to ignore elections was dubbed as the “nakh-nakh” project), Boris Nemtsov [ru], Vladimir Ryzhkov, and Mikhail Kasyanov. The solution is based on the assumption that all election numbers will be falsified anyway so there's no sense even to try to play in the ‘election farce.’
  • Not only boycott the elections but also insist on removing oneself from the electoral roll. This option was proposed by Eduard Limonov, since all others were considered unacceptable. Not only is it important to forget about poll stations, but it is necessary to go to the place of the city “where the bravest citizens get together”, implying immediate street protest at the day of elections.
  • The “Navalny option”, so-called after anti-corruption blogger (and now we can say, online politician) Alexey Navalny, who proposed it first. This option states [ru] that the electors should vote for any party other than United Russia, since boycotting the election will only increase its dominance in the parliament. Respected electoral experts like Alexander Kynev, Grigoriy Golosov, and Arkadiy Lyubarev, have been continuously supporting this option (even without knowing that it's named after the famous blogger).

Popular blogger Anton Nosik, wrote [ru] that the Internet was a bad agitation tool for any opposition party but it has tremendous power to change the turnout of the elections, and therefore United Russia's results:

Я считаю, что Интернет не в состоянии кого бы то ни было сагитировать голосовать так или иначе. Потому что в Интернете у каждого — своя голова на плечах. Люди сюда приходят не за руководящими указаниями, как им голосовать, а по своим делам.
Единственная вещь, на которую Интернет может когда-нибудь реально повлиять — это собственно явка на выборы.
Поэтому единственный способ Интернету повлиять на результаты декабрьского голосования — это повысить явку среди тех самых 52,9 миллионов российских пользователей.

I think that the Internet is unable to agitate the vote this way or another. Because in the Internet – everyone is able to think for oneself. People come here not for the instructions on how to vote, but for their own business.
The only thing that the Internet can influence is basically the election turnout.
This is why the only way the Internet can influence the results of the December election is to raise the turnout among those 52.9 million voters [Nosik uses this number as the estimate of the RuNet audience].

Vladimir Milov, the only leader (out of four) of the PARNAS non-registered party has compared [ru] these elections to the 1989 elections, and noted the importance to choose “realistic” options:

[…] что предшествовало избранию Ельцина? Несколько лет упорной политической борьбы, напоминавшей бесконечное перетягивание каната. […] Были выборы 1990 года в Верховный совет РСФСР, про который тогда говорили – да он ничего не решает, всю повестку определяют союзные органы. С огромным трудом удалось избрать Ельцина председателем Верховного совета РСФСР. Потом с еще большим трудом – пробить введение поста президента РСФСР. Потом – провести эти выборы.

Все это было безумно нудно и скучно. […] Тогда тоже были свои нах-нахи, которые твердили: все это нелегитимный фарс, мы в фарсе не участвуем, бойкот, […] нах-нах-нах.

Но в итоге, по крупице, шаг за шагом, ценой упорных, рутинных, очень скучных усилий был достигнут политический результат.

Сегодня есть реальная возможность лишить “Единую Россию” конституционного большинства в парламенте. Впервые за 8 лет. […] Идея голосовать на выборах против “ЕР” вызывает энтузиазм у большого количества людей, многие из которых знать не знают про существование оппозиции и ее лидеров. […] Цель реальна. Игра стоит свеч.

[…] What was before the election of Boris Yeltsin [to the chair of the President of Russia]? Several years of persistent political struggle that reminded one of a never ending tug-of-war. […] There were elections in 1990 to the Supreme Soviet of Russia, about which people said – yes, it doesn't decide anything, the agenda is being decided on the higher [Soviet] level. It took a great effort to elect Yeltsin as the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russian Federation. Then, with an even harder effort – to create the chair of the president of the Russian Federation. Then to run the elections.

It was all very boring. […] Then, there were also ‘nakh-nakhs,’ that were saying: it's all a non-legitimate farce, we're not participating in farce, we're boycotting, nakh-nakh-nakh.

But, at the end of the day, step by step, at the price of persistent, routine, very dull efforts, the political result was achieved.

Today exists the real possibility to deprive “United Russia” of the constitutional majority in the Parliament. For the first time in eight years. […] The idea to vote against “United Russia” attracts many people, who don't even know contemporary opposition or its leaders. […] the aim is real. The game IS worth the candle.

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011.

* Popular conspiracy theories in Russia believe that the Arab spring revolutions were inspired by the CIA/FBI/Freemasons, and that the same scenario is being prepared for Russia.


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