Tuesday, September 20, 2016

But 'twas a famous victory

Well, a victory, anyway. The "crushing" victory of Putin's party, New Russia, is possibly the least surprising news item of the last six months. What is slightly more surprising is that the Russians have decided to vote with their feet, about the only way they can do so in any meaningful fashion. According to official figures, turn-out was 47.81%, down from the 60% of 2011, in itself not all that high.
The preliminary results announced in Moscow early on September 19 by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) showed United Russia with 54.28 percent of the party list vote, under which 225 Duma seats are assigned to candidates listed by political parties winning at least 5 percent of the ballots cast.

Candidates from United Russia, which is backed by President Vladimir Putin, also were leading in most of the 225 "single-mandate" constituencies, where the candidate with the most votes wins.

Unlike the last two parliamentary elections, in 2011 and 2007, this year half of the mandates were distributed according to national party-list voting and the other half were contested in single-mandate districts.

TsIK Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said United Russia was on track to win 140 Duma seats by party ticket and another 203 in single-mandate constituencies.

Only three other parties were on track to surpass the 5 percent threshold and secure party representation in the legislature. All regularly vote with United Russia on key issues and all are represented in the outgoing Duma.

They include the Communist Party with 13.45 percent (42 seats), flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) with 13.24 percent (39 seats), and A Just Russia with 6.17 percent (23 seats).

Pamfilova said final results should be announced on September 23.
I am not expecting any surprises. Not even an announcement that an opposition candidate from either Yabloko or PARNAS has won a seat. Given that they were not really allowed to campaign it is quite likely that the vast majority of the Russian population has never heard of the two parties. Even in Belarus two opposition politicians won seats in the recent parliamentary election.

Meanwhile both Radio Liberty and Reuters are reporting that the fraud was even more widespread than we first believed. That "biggest majority", touted by the Telegraph among others is something of a myth.
When liberal rights activist Ella Pamfilova was named to head Russia’s election commission in March, she promised to clean house and oversee transparent, democratic elections.

“We will change a lot, and radically, in the way the Central Election Commission operates. A lot and radically -- this is something I can promise you,” she said at the time.

However, a statistical analysis of the official preliminary results of the country’s September 18 State Duma elections points to a familiar story: massive fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia party comparable to what independent analysts found in 2007 and 2011.

“The results of the current Duma elections were falsified on the same level as the Duma and presidential elections of 2011, 2008, and 2007, the most falsified elections in post-Soviet history, as far as we can tell,” physicist and data analyst Sergei Shpilkin told RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “By my estimate, the scope of the falsification in favor of United Russia in these elections amounted to approximately 12 million votes.”
Who, you might ask is Sergei Shpilkin?
Shpilkin, who in 2012 won the independent PolitProsvet award for political analysis for his statistical work on the 2011 vote, posted his examination of the latest election on his blog on September 19.

Using data from the Central Election Commission’s website, Shpilkin organized all 95,800 polling stations on a graph according to the turnout that they reported.

In fair elections, the graph would form a bell curve, with its peak indicating the average turnout for the entire election. Reading from left to right, Shpilkin’s graph shows a relatively normal bell curve that peaks at about 36 percent turnout and then, as it moves right, shows a jagged curve that dips unevenly and then begins rising again, as vast numbers of polling stations begin reporting turnouts of 70 percent or more.

Moreover, Shpilkin shows that almost all “extra” votes from polling stations reporting higher-than-average turnout went to United Russia. That is, a party such as ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR received virtually the same number of votes from polling stations reporting a turnout of 95 percent as it did from stations reporting turnouts of 65 percent. United Russia, by contrast, received about four times as many at the 95 percent stations.
I admit, this is largely for election geeks but the various examples given by Reuters reporters confirms the statistical analysis. Even without fraud we can say that the Duma represents less than half the country's population and the winning United Russia party represents a minority. You could say the same for almost any government in almost any democratic country. Except that Russia is not one of those but a country that has had its opposition stifled, with the media being controlled by the state, the opposition parties not allowed to function and individuals either hounded out of the country, if they are lucky, or murdered.

This raises the subject of Putin's much vaunted popularity, something that was raised during the discussion of David Satter's book at the Henry Jackson Society. That popularity, said Mr Satter, accurately enough, is based on lies and suppression of information. That's as may be but it is also a doubtful concept.

In the first place, reliance on opinion polls is usually misplaced even in Western countries, let alone in Russia where people are understandably wary of answering official sounding questions truthfully. In fact, on a number of occasions, that was the question put to people by Levada, the only independent polling organization and the answer was usually overwhelmingly the same: of course we are not going to answer truthfully but as we think people expect us to answer.

In the second place, voting results have not shown Putin's popularity for quite some time. Turn-outs are low and even with the control exerted over any kind of an opposition fraud and falsification is required to achieve the necessary results that are, as it happens, not particularly impressive.

Thirdly, if Putin is so popular why has the Ministry of Justice launched an attack on the only independent polling organization, Levada? Having been named a "foreign agent" it now faces closure. The reason could not possibly be that, even with all the problems mentioned above, their opinion polls did not show that Putin's popularity was sinking very rapidly?

There is an additional item of news from Russia itself (this blog is not about the mess in Syria) and that comes from Kommersant, which is still independent, via Radio Liberty. Their journalists have found out that there is a plan to consolidate and strengthen all the various security forces and organizations before the presidential elections of 2018 in a Ministry of State Security or, in Russian, Министерство Государственной Безопастности (МГБ or MGB). And why not, you might ask. No reason except for the historic resonances. We've been here before. The MGB was Lavrenty Beria's all-powerful security apparatus from 1946 to 1953 when it changed its name again and Beria was disposed of. What goes around, comes around, especially in Russia.

1 comment:

  1. "Every Bill and every Measure,
    That may gratify his pleasure,
    Though your fury it arouses,
    Shall be passed by both your Houses"
    Fairy Queen in Iolanthe

    Meanwhile here in Derby the vote of the Police and Crime Commissioner ensured that
    the Council will not impose extra security measures to prevent election fraud
    although we are amongst the culturally enriched areas where fraud is known to occur and such precautions are available.