| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Russian elections with a little mud and vegetables

File Photo of Fully Assembled DumaMOSCOW, November 28 (RIA Novosti, David Burghardt, Alexei Korolyov) - With parliamentary elections in Russia just a week away, mudslinging is pretty much expected and it's the billboards that are taking on the brunt of it. There are of course TV debates but ridiculous broadcasting hours have put viewers off, so election billboards and leaflets handed out on the streets seem to be the main weaponry of the seven parties vying for seats in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

Despite lagging support, the governing United Russia party will most certainly keep its parliamentary majority in elections already declared by the opposition as "pre-ordained."

United Russia is headed by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who on Sunday officially announced that he would run for president in the March 2012 presidential elections. United Russia's ticket head is the other half of the tandem, current President Dmitry Medvedev, who after presidential elections, should Putin win, will become the new prime minister, meaning the two will swap jobs. Neither Putin nor Medvedev will participate in the debates.

Central Election Commission

Over the past few weeks, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has placed large billboards around the cities and along highways, calling for people to vote in the upcoming elections.

But although the CEC should be neutral in its advertising and bringing public awareness to the civic duty of casting votes, the posters are shockingly similar in design (color, layout, pictures) to the United Russia party's billboards.

The authorities have seemed undeterred.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in an interview published by Itogi magazine on November 14 that he saw "nothing illegal" in the fact that the CEC's ads calling for people to cast their votes were practically identical to United Russia's campaign billboards.

"Why would I lie?" Sobyanin said, adding: "When we are talking about United Russia, we assume that city and party power within Moscow are in essence represented as a single unit, we take on the same issues and solve the [same] general tasks."

A spokesman for Moscow's city election commission, Dmitry Reut, said the commission did not own copyright of the civic-minded posters and denied that there had been a breach of election law.

State bodies are required by law to publish procurement orders online.

The commission's order stated, in no uncertain terms, that a firm tasked with making these posters handed over "exclusive copyright" to the city authorities, a topic Reut refused to be drawn into.

Moscow blogger Oleg Kozyrev filed a complaint with the CEC after exposing the trick in a blog post that has notched up hundreds of thousands of hits.

"It is not a coincidence; it is a concerted campaign," he told RIA Novosti, adding that Russia's "semblance of democracy" has been dealt "a very serious blow."

In the Moscow region, billboards urging voters to go to the polls are likewise identical to United Russia's. And, just like in the Russian capital, these are posted close together in what Kozyrev described as an "appalling giveaway" of election bodies' abetting of Putin's party.

"The CEC must be independent," he said, urging it to take the infamous posters down.

"It's not about copyright, it's about the notion of elections themselves," he went on. "That these posters are still up indicates the fundamental unfairness of this poll."

While the authorities are routinely accused of preordaining polls, Kozyrev said he believed Russians now "increasingly understand that there is no freedom." The likely outcome of this may be mass street protests, he warned, just as Russians' apathy may once again turn into revolutionary fervor.

"All legal outlets of expressing anger have been blocked. There is no way out," he said.

The controversy comes amid reports that state employees and students are being pressured to vote for United Russia. Observers have also reported cases where people were offered freebies in exchange for votes.

Campaign slogans

The billboard space throughout the country is dominated by the United Russia party, usually depicting Medvedev or Putin, and using the slogan of "Together we will win!" However, it is not exactly clear who the "we" are and where exactly the "together" fits into the slogan. This could be conceived as Medvedev and Putin together will win, or together with the voters the tandem will win. Or it could also be understood that together with United Russia, the entire country will win. The slogan is slightly sketchy and leaves room for debate on what exactly the party is trying to get across.

Most of the other United Russia billboards are simple, by just replacing the first verb in the slogan. For example: "We are creating for life, for the people," and then changing the verb so it reads: "We are working for life, for the people."

One of United Russia's slogans in the republic of Tatarstan reads "Yes, we can!" in both Russian and the local Tatar language, though the "ingenious" slogan smacks of U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign slogan.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), headed by the outspoken Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has a simple, but somewhat controversial slogan: "For Russians!" The billboards are much smaller and much fewer and show Zhirinovsky pointing his index finger in the direction of the voter. The problem with this slogan is, though all eligible voters residing in Russia are Russian citizens, they are not necessarily of Russian ethnicity, i.e. Tatars, Chechens, Dagestanis, Chukchis, Buryats, Kalmykis, and the list goes on.

This approach could possibly incite interethnic controversy. Extremist groups are often slapped with fines and sentenced to jail for "hate crime" after using such phrases as "Russia for Russians," as they claim that all of the hardships, including terrorism in the country, come from "non-Russians."

The party also uses the slogan "Vote for LDPR or suffer further!"

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), headed by communist Gennady Zyuganov, uses many slogans in its billboard campaign, limiting itself to the return of communism where all are created equal and pointedly calling for a change in the current government. The campaign slogan of "It's time for a change in power!" is a definite jab at the current leadership. The slogan of the party as published on its website is "To protect Russians and recreate the friendship of the peoples," showing KPRF's stance on a multinational Russia, or perhaps by stretching a bit, a recreation of the Soviet Union.

Stabs at the current ruling party are illustrated with Zyuganov standing with a clenched fist on the foreground of the USSR's red flag with the hammer and sickle and a Kremlin tower with the words: "I will force them to return what was stolen!"

A Just Russia party, headed by the former speaker of the upper house of parliament, Sergei Mironov, initially used the billboard slogan: "For the Fatherland without thieves and crooks." This is yet another example of not necessarily campaigning, but slinging mud at the current government, and the billboards were ordered to be removed in several cities because they were in direct violation of laws on advertising, more precisely by using "rude wording." The billboards remain in Moscow and similar pamphlets are also being handed out to people on the streets.

Party leader Mironov was until May the speaker of the Federation Council until he was ousted from the post after a spat between A Just Russia and United Russia, most political analysts believe. His ousting came to a head after criticizing then-St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko who is also from the United Russia party. In September, Matvienko was elected speaker of the upper house, ultimately replacing Mironov.

The Patriots of Russia, Yabloko and Right Cause are not expected to clear the 7-percent threshold required to qualify for seats.

The Patriots, a small-time party whose power base seems to largely consist of KPRF/LDPR apostates and fans of modern Russian folk music, points to "the heroic experience of our great ancestors" as a beacon for Russia today. The party is headed by Gennady Semigin. Its election campaign billboards are hard to come by, at least in Moscow, and its slogans are all a variation on the same theme - that patriotism is above politics. Their logo is also adorned with a rainbow reminiscent of the widely known "gay flag."

Yabloko, the standard-bearer of the liberal left in the country headed by Grigory Yavlinsky, has been somewhat more creative. Its slogan "Tired of vegetables? Vote for Yabloko" is an amusing play on words involving the party's name which means "apple" in Russia. An election advertisement referring to United Russia as the principal vegetables has been banned from state television.

Its other slogans include "Russia demands change" and "We will give hope back to you," something a bit discordant with the party's election program, titled "Land-Housing-Roads," which exhibits little of the party's traditionally combative rhetoric.

Right Cause, a Kremlin-sanctioned pro-business party led by Andrei Dunayev, may well have been a dark horse in this election but suffered a huge blow when metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov was ousted as its leader after less than three months in office in September. The party projects a liberal agenda and has been appealing to Russia's sense of personality and statehood, but this apparently is not enough to win it sufficient votes to pass the threshold needed for seats in the Duma.

Forecasted results

The independent Levada Center think tank released on Friday its forecast of the possible distribution of seats in the State Duma after the elections on December 4, giving United Russia the majority of 253 out of the total of 450. United Russia currently has 315, so there will be a slight drop in representation, though still the majority. The remainder of the seats, as the Levada Center predicts, are as follows: KPRF with 94, LDPR with 59, and A Just Russia with 44 seats.

The center did not publish possible seats for the remaining three parties, which assumes they will not make the 7% barrier needed for their party to be represented in the Duma.

*The order of parties in this article is arbitrary and arranged by the authors for ease of publishing.


Russia, Government, Politics, Election - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet