They’re Worried. Ilya Shablinsky on how the Nadezhdin situation is similar to the elections in Belarus

19 February 2024

by Ilya Shablinsky


While Putin was suggesting to an American journalist that he go back mentally thirty-forty-a hundred-a thousand years, let’s just try to remember the day before yesterday. Boris Nadezhdin was refused registration for the presidential elections. Nearly all the experts had predicted this outcome. Naturally, none of them lent any significance to the demonstrative fuss made by petty TsIK [Central Election Committee] officials over the pages of signatures. Most likely, the question of “not allowing” him had been decided beforehand. It’s fairly easy to guess who it was who forced this decision. The document was drawn up by Anton Vaino, the indefatigable director of the Presidential Administration, and his deputy Sergei Kirienko, who is responsible for the election farce. Countersigned —possibly, with just a nod—by the dictator personally. I can allow that Putin, immersed today (and yesterday) in the topics of Avdeevka, the shortage of drones, and the battles at the Rabotinsky Ledge, had more important things to worry about. But still he must have. I don’t think anyone would dare change the original plan without his sanction.

Originally, the impotent cardboard figures casting a shadow on the dictator’s greatness and his undisputed electoral advantage also included a small figure labeled “liberal.” Boris Nadezhdin fit that concept ideally inasmuch as he had already filled a similar role many times. As we know, he’d been on all kinds of television shows on state channels, where he dependably took verbal blows from fine young patriots while managing to get something said through the howls and wails. I admit, I too back in the distant prewar era had occasion several times to join Boris on the same program on Rossiya-1. Back then you could still object to the powerful crones wearing deputy pins and the haggard-looking generals. I can attest that even when Boris was attacked en masse and prevented from finishing his sentence, he would wait, but always calmly (sometimes even too calmly), and would finish saying what he considered necessary. For instance, he would say that “Russian assistance” had brought the Donbass only misfortune, or that under Putin trials had ceased to be trials. And other now-prohibited things. Nonetheless, the Presidential Administration lackeys considered him a harmless teddy bear, that is, suitable for his assigned role in the scenario.

Now, though, in January of the new 2024 year, exercising their right to add their signature in support of Boris, thousands of people all over the country stood in line. Let us note that this is the first time this phenomenon has been observed in the history of our elections. This is the first time we have seen such a blatant demonstration of political support in Russia with our own eyes. The only time something like this has been observed before was in Belarus, where in summer 2020 about ten thousand Belarussians stood in line to add their signatures for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

In general, signatures in support of candidates for president (and deputy) are virtually never collected anywhere in the world. Collecting signatures has been rejected almost everywhere in favor of the election deposit. Then it’s all simple: either it’s made or it isn’t. And no election committee can play at being a supreme arbiter fabricating its opinions on signatures and squiggles out of thin air (and instructions from above).

In our Russian instance, on the other hand, we got rid of the deposit years ago and specifically so that that lady from the TsIK with the nasty little smile could inform candidate Nadezhdin that the dictator was not letting him enter the race. That is, that was the hidden message, but the TsIK lady spoke about love. “We love you!” Just like that. 

Speaking at a session of the TsIK, Nadezhdin noted that he has millions of voters behind him who are now being deprived of representation. And that’s true. His ratings suddenly spiked and surpassed the ratings of all the other candidates (except the dictator) put together.   

The latest sampling, by the Russian Field group, was taken on 27-30 January (the data collection method was a telephone survey with a complete audio taping of each interview, the sample size was 1600 respondents, the quota sample for federal districts, and it was representative for gender and age). According to this research, 79.2% of those surveyed planned to vote for Putin, 10.4% for Nadezhdin, 4.1% for Kharitonov, 2.9% for Slutsky, and 1.1% for Davankov.

The essence of these figures is that the popularity of the sole candidate who has come out openly against the war rose at a surprisingly fast rate. Without any attention at all from the federal television channels, without campaign propaganda, and without any special efforts by his staff (which was busy with the signatures).

Of course, the Presidential Administration couldn’t take a risk. Inasmuch as they never gave a thought to any real competition and there can be no sudden turns in the farcical campaign. 

They didn’t allow Ekaterina Duntsova to collect signatures, and they didn’t acknowledge Boris Nadezhdin’s signatures. I wouldn’t say the dictator’s servants were frightened by them, but I’m sure their concerns were serious. By all accounts, the Administration couldn’t guess how many real votes the antiwar candidates would collect. They didn’t and don’t know. And now we aren’t going to find out either.  

It was obvious to everyone that society is seeing a demand for an end to the dictator’s policy. The war is extremely unpopular with a segment of Russian society. And apparently quite popular with another. Society is split, that’s true. However, the elections aren’t going to help us now to understand the proportions of this schism. Unfortunately.

From now on there will be four names on the ballot. Everything just the way the dictator wanted: him and three laughable figures.

Let us all turn our attention to what instruments the law offers for the replication of Putin’s triumph. Over the last two years, amendments have been made to the law allowing election committee officials to paint any result they like. 

First, voting will go on for three days, which will make any monitoring of the voting process, ballot storage, and ballot counting extremely difficult.

Second, voting can now be done “outside the voting location on territories and in places suitable for voting equipment (building-adjacent territories, general-use territories, and other places).” Thus, the meme “voting on stumps” is real, and has a legal underpinning (point 16, Article 71 of the Law). 

Third, the provision on the possibility of using remote electronic voting (DEG) has been strengthened. Using DEG in our conditions gives the broadest possible opening to any and all manipulations on the part of any and all administrations that control the procedure’s technical aspect.

In short, these people can paint any figures they like. It’s nothing new. The dictator’s electoral success has to be impressive—80-85% of the vote, I think. The result is set in advance. 

So what kept them from leaving Nadezhdin on the ballot if they can paint any figures they like? Here’s what: the “output” figures can be painted at the TsIK, but at input, at the precinct commissions and UIKs [station election commissions], tens of thousands of ordinary commission members will be able to see the real results. What if the antiwar candidate comes in second, getting 25-30%? Thousands of people will find out about that, and hundreds of them will carry copies of the records with the forbidden truth out of the UIKs. That’s exactly what happened in Belarus in 2020. And the publication of this truth cost some members of Belarussian UIKs their life. Let’s not be forgetting that.

No, let it all proceed as planned—as farce. This is what the indefatigable men on Old Square have decided. Farce candidates (“spoilers”) should not interfere in this matter. Their electoral campaigns should go entirely unnoticed, undistinguished, in the federal media space. 

And generally speaking, that’s what’s happening. Both Kharitonov (Russian Communist Party) and Slutsky (Russian Liberal Democratic Party) have even said outright that they don’t plan to win the election from Putin. The few statements they have made so far are variations on listless threats against the “collective West.” Speaking in this vein, they can’t expect any increase in their electorate. They don’t need to.

If one thing has upset the farce-partners in the last few days, it’s the swift rise in Nadezhdin’s rating. It’s amusing that it was the director of the Communist Party’s analytical service, who quoted the above-cited sociological data, admitting their reality, who expressed alarm in this respect. By all accounts, he wanted to shake up the Presidential Administration, too.

Now, I think, everyone has calmed down. Everything’s fine.

What is left to hope for? I would hope that the country, no matter how frightened and oppressed it looks, is still far from what it was in distant 1984: my last year of university and the last year in power for the general secretary of the “stagnation” era. It was easier then for them, for “stagnation’s” leaders, 40 years ago. We often recall those numbers now, 1984.

 It’s harder for people today, no matter how hard they try. They’ve had to wrap their heads around Nadezhdin. Now they’re thinking about what to do with “Noon against Putin.”* And also with the fact that one of the candidate-clowns did manage to add his signature in support of Nadezhdin. It’s a hassle.

The malevolent old men from deep inside the KGB who wormed their way into power may still drink plenty of blood from people on both sides of the border. They can set up bloody slaughters, and they can amuse themselves with foolish farces. No matter how you look at it, though, their days are numbered. 

* ‘Noon Against Putin’ is a planned peaceful protest, first proposed by Maksim Reznik and then supported by, among others, Aleksei Navalny, Dmitry Gudkov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Ekaterina Duntsova, Mikhail Lobanov, Ivan Zhdanov and Maksim Katz, that Russian citizens who do not support Vladimir Putin’s policies should go en masse to the polling stations on the last day of the presidential election, 17 March 2024, at 12 noon in order to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the election and support for anti-war and anti-Putin views. Source: Акция «Полдень против Путина», Wikipedia (Russian).

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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