Russia: With Opposition's Online Elections Over, Scandals Plague Results

The Coordinating Council elections are finally over. Now that the results are in, and the Council has already convened [ru] for the first time, it’s time to look more closely at what happened.

Undoubtedly, these elections were one of the most well-attended events (either online or offline) in the history of the Russian opposition. Registering to participate were more than 170,000 people, over 97,000 of whom passed the relatively complicated identification-verification process (either by sending money over the phone, or attaching a photo of themselves holding their passport). In the end, nearly 84% of all verified voters (81,801 citizens) cast ballots between October 20 and 22.

Despite some hitches, the event was generally a success, prompting Alexey Navalny — who led the count with 43,723 votes — to blog “We did it” [ru]. (An explanatory note: voters could cast as many as 45 votes for the 45-seat council.) Nevertheless, some bloggers and online activists chose to criticize both the results and the process.

Central Election Committee website listing numbers of people registered, verified, and voted. Screenshot. October 24, 2012

First, many criticize the fact that nearly all the winners of the election are “the usual suspects” –- the individuals who have stood at the helm of the protest movement for the past year, and arguably have not accomplished much. LiveJournal user andrey_kuprikov blogged [ru]:

Новых фамилий вы там не увидете : Собчак, Немцов, Удальцов и прочие Кацы, из регионов аж четыре персонажа

You won’t see new names there: Sobchak, Nemtsov, Udaltsov, and other various Katzes, from the regions there’s a whole of four persons

While @Uberkatze tweeted [ru]:

Одно я могу сказать точно: народ, у которого в топ 5 оппозиционеров входят Яшин и Собчак – заслуживает Путина.

I can say one thing for certain: a people, whose top-five opposition members include Yashin and Sobchak, deserves Putin.

Media-personality candidates like Sobchak did compete extremely well. Except for Irina Yasina and Liudmila Ulitskaya (who dropped out of the race before voting began), all the members of Sobchak’s campaign bloc, “Civil Platform,” were elected. Curiously, Sobchak's Platform, composed of celebrities and authors, has denied any wish to participate in “politics.”

More diverse candidates did not make it. Commenting on this absence of more unknowns, blogger dmitry_dabb wrote [ru]:

Лично для меня показательно то, что не прошел ни один человек из тех, кто занимался политзеками.

For me personally, it’s indicative that not a single person of those who deal with political prisoners made it through.

Journalist Olga Kuzmenkova also noted this, tweeting [ru]:

То, что Власов из “РосУзника” не прошел – это вообще космический пиздец. Кто вместо него? Максим, бля, Кац!

The fact that Vlasov from “RosPrisoner” did not make it is a cosmic WTF. Who’s in instead of him? Maksim-fucking-Katz!

Kuzmenkova was referring to Max Katz, a professional poker player with an interest in urban development, who is currently a municipal deputy in a Moscow neighborhood.

Leonid Volkov at the election headquarters. Screenshot from Youtube. October 24, 2012.

The predictability of the results wasn't the only complaint lodged against the elections. When a DDoS-attack crippled the voting platform on the first day of the election, many criticized Leonid Volkov, the Elections Commissioner and mastermind behind the online system's technical design. Volkov previously promised that the website was locked down tight, and was prepared to withstand any attacks. That, however, was not the case [ru]. Early on, one of the voting servers was successfully taken down by a LOIC attack — a famously easy to use and effective DDoS tool. (LOICs have been successfully used by the hacktivist group Anonymous in their attacks on the Church of Scientology.) The attackers then switched to using a Botnet, which caused further problems, prompting the use of a captcha response test. Both types of attacks are very low budget [ru], and were mild enough (around 4,000 requests per second) for a user of an IT-related forum to comment [ru]:

ну если это называется атакой… то на какую нагрузку то был расчитан сайт?

if this is what you call an attack, what kind of load was the site designed for?

The attacks made voting nearly impossible for almost 36 hours, prompting the extension of the voting period.

Eventually, people were able to vote. The number of voters, however, was another reason for criticism. In the end, only half of all registered voters actually voted. However, after the elections were over, Volkov tweeted [ru] that the turnout was above 80 percent. He was comparing the number of people who voted to the number of those verified through the website. This turnout percentage is misleading.

If registration on the website is akin to voter registration in general, then going through the subsequent verification process is better analogized to showing up in person at a voting booth or requesting an absentee ballot. According [ru] to journalist Tatyana Shabaeva, this is what should determine the turnout –- how many people out of the ones who registered cared enough to follow through with the verification process.

In real (i.e., non-percentage) terms, the turnout was low any way you swing it, especially compared to how many Russians are active online. One of the losing candidates highlighted this [ru] in a Facebook post:

За Навального проголосовало 43 723 человека. При количестве подписчиков в твиттере 300 000 + ЖЖ, где тоже очень много подписчиков.

43,723 people voted for Navalny. Thats with 300,000 followers on Twitter, plus LiveJournal, where he also has a lot of followers.

Others were more despondent. Mitya Aleshkovsky tweeted [ru]:

И самое важное чему нас научили выборы в КС это то, что проголосовало – 81801 человек. Я не верю, что оппозиции так мало.

The most important thing that the Coordinating Council elections have taught us is that 81,801 people voted. I can’t believe that the opposition is so small.

Meanwhile, Volkov has also caught flak for his management of the votes cast by members of MMM, Sergey Mavrodi’s pyramid scheme. Mavrodi, who made it clear before the elections that he would try to influence the results by getting thousands of his minions to vote according to a list [ru] of 38 lesser known candidates (Global Voices covered this development a few days ago). According to Volkov himself [ru], around 20 thousand MMMers ended up being verified and voting in the elections. In other words, Mavrodi's followers comprised roughly a quarter of the election's total electorate. However, the Election Commission counted only half of the MMMer votes. The rationale for that decision [ru] was quite curious.

The argument is convoluted and goes something like this: there was a number of people who voted according to Mavrodi’s list, but not all of these votes were fraudulent; only votes cast by MMMers registered after Mavrodi “coerced” them into registering for the election, which he achieved by requiring MMMers to present proof of registration in order to gain access to their personal pages on his website.

That is, people who registered to vote after October 16 (when Mavrodi decided [ru] that simply asking his followers to register wasn't good enough) were disqualified as “swayed by an illegitimate campaign,” if their votes matched Mavrodi’s list.

Justifying this decision encounters serious problems logically. If Mavrodi’s involvement was not in the spirit of the elections, then all MMM votes should have been disregarded (which would lower actual turnout to around 60,000 people). If such a move is unthinkable because of its fundamentally undemocratic character, the only rational alternative is counting every vote. After all, Mavrodi did not actually make anyone vote, only register. Furthermore he did not force anyone to vote for particular candidates. As he himself pointed out [ru] on his website:

[…] я рекомендую — не требую! боже упаси! :-)) — голосовать. Да и как я могу требовать? Я же не имею возможности проверить, как вы голосуете?

[…] I recommend — not demand! god save me! :-)) – to vote. And how could I demand anything? I don’t have the ability to check how you vote.

And while forcing people to register to vote under durres may be morally questionable, it hardly amounts to compelling actual voter participation or a vote for a particular candidate (which Mavrodi never attempted). In this sense, all people who voted according to Mavrodi’s list are either equally culpable or equally innocent.

In the end, it’s not clear where the new Council will lead the opposition. Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who withdrew as a candidate just days before voting started, tweeted [ru] at Volkov:

@leonidvolkov ты убил идею #ВыборыКС своей ее реализацией. Теперь надо как можно скорее похоронить усопшую и заняться другими делами

@leonidvolkov you killed the idea of Coordinating Council elections with your execution of it. Now we need to bury the dead as soon as possible and start doing something else

Conversely, journalist Ilya Barabanov countered [ru] the naysayers, answering on Twitter:

Не нравится этот КС – выберите через год другой.

[If you] don’t like this Coordinating Council – elect another one in a year.

Barabanov's confidence that the Coordinating Council will survive into 2013 is inspiring. But is it well-founded?


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