On Monday, voting closed in the Russian opposition’s online election. 170,000 had signed up for the process, but only 98,000 actually took the trouble to document their identity. Of the registered voters, only 82,000 actually went to the polls to cast their votes.
The spinning began immediately.
Before the vote, opposition leaders touted the 170,000 figure as an indication of their massive support. It was a ludicrous contention, of course, since Russia is a nation of 140 million and the opposition barely got 0.1% of the population to participate. But still, 170,000 was more than the opposition had ever managed to bring to the streets for protests. When less than half that number actually cast ballots, the opposition began talking not about 170,000 but about 98,000 and touting 83% turnout.
Aleksei Navalny, the organizer of the vote and the winner by a landslide, went further. On his blog, he touted 82,000 votes as being second only to Estonia in world history for turnout at an online election. What Navalny failed to mention is that Russia’s population is one hundred times bigger than that of Estonia, so to match Estonia’s performance Russia would have needed to get roughly 10 million to the virtual polls.
Navalny also touted on his blog the fact that “only” one-third of the online votes came from Moscow. Apparently, he feels that getting about 55,000 non-Muscovites to the virtual polls shows his movement is not restricted to Moscow. It’s a laughable contention, just as laughable as suggesting that the votes of 83,000 in a country of 140 million mean anything at all. The fact is that any Internet-based election excludes the vast majority of Russians because the vast majority don’t have ready Internet access. They get their information from state-sponsored broadcast television and they overwhelmingly support Vladimir Putin.
At the polls, each virtual voter had the ability to cast 45 votes, the same number as there ultimately would be seats on the ruling council for which they were voting — thirty votes could be cast for candidates on the general list on which Navalny’s name appeared, and five each on three different party lists. Navalny was the top vote-getter on the general list, earning the support of 53% of those who voted for candidates on that list, or almost 44,000 votes. No other candidate on any of the four ballots got a majority. Second place on the general list was won by poet Dmitry Bykov, third by Garry Kasparov, and fourth/fifth places were taken by the Russian Paris Hilton, Ksenia Sobchak, and her boyfriend Ilya Yashin. Yevgenia Chirikova of the Khimiki forest came in seventh, Boris Nemtsov was 16th, journalist Oleg Kashin was 18th, Andrei Illarionov was 19th, fanatical nationalist Sergei Udaltsov was 20th, Vladimir Kara-Murza was 21st, Russia’s blogger-in-chief Rustem Adagamov was 22nd and Andrei Piontovsky was #27.
The successful candidates on the general list were overwhelmingly male; just five of its thirty members were female (albeit three of the top eleven).
Not long ago, Navalny was promising many things. He was promised a new election in the Duma. It did not happen. He promised he would force Putin into a runoff. Not so much. He promised the size of street demonstrations would rise, from 100,000 to 1 million. But they shrank from 100,000 to 10,000. Yet despite all this failure, Navalny still won the election by a landslide, in a victory eerily reminiscent of that of Vladimir Putin himself. Navalny’s blog post is totally devoid of any introspection, any questioning of whether the puny support he received was any sort of mandate or success, and reflection upon whether he has been and can be a successful leader of the opposition forces.
It’s very hard to imagine what the ruling council can possibly accomplish. It has no fundraising, no clear agenda, and no charismatic leadership. Vladimir Putin has already settled into power, and it does not seem the opposition is remotely capable of the sort of dramatic action that would now be required to shake that power. What’s more, the Kremlin is already threatening Navalny with jail in Siberia.