Putin wins referendum without arousing enthusiasm

“- The Russians have erected a monument to Georges Orwell.

– Where ?

– All over.”

It is the last “anekdot” (political joke) born in Russia in recent days, during which the population was called to speak about a constitutional reform, whose main objective – despite a patriotic-conservative coating – is to allow Vladimir Putin to remain in power for a very long time. Without any surprise, the “yes” wins at 77.9%, with a participation rate of 65% to make our Western democracies tremble with envy. If the results had been drawn in advance in the offices of spin doctors of the Kremlin, still it took a lot of effort and imagination to the Election Commission to mobilize a demotivated electorate, tested by an economic situation not very bright, and sore by three months of Covid-19…

“Completely illegal procedure”

For a week, starting on June 25, the Russians were able to speak in advance, online and in improvised voting points on public benches, supermarket trolleys, in car trunks or sandboxes, and the 1is July, in a more traditional way, in offices installed as it should be, with posters and balloons in the colors of the flag, in schools and other administrations.

“An election of fairy tales, sums up political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann on TvRain. A wonderful, completely illegal, self-regulating, self-regulating process. ” Early voting is not provided for by Russian law for the type of ballot which has just taken place, neither referendum nor elections, but “national voting”, a formula which makes it possible to circumvent the strict framework imposed by the first two (would not (the anonymity of the cabin), with a simplified vote, without observers or rules of the prop-prop. Except that without this advance vote, there was a great risk of not achieving the result expected by the Kremlin, and not only in terms of tidal waves and therefore of plebiscite, but even by simple majority.

As pointed out by the electoral observation association Golos, which published a report on voting violations, both the participation rate and the final result were made possible exclusively thanks to the advance voting week. Electronic voting allowing all manipulations, while improvised ballot boxes in building courtyards (not to be confused with the surrounding garbage cans, the word is the same in Russian, sneered at slayers) are even easier to stuff than boxes transparent and sealed. Which have nevertheless been shamelessly, as evidenced by many images circulating on social networks since Wednesday.

“The system abides by the rules as long as it can win, and ceases to abide by them when victory is no longer assured”, said Schulmann. It is becoming increasingly difficult to win elections according to traditional rules, as in 2018, when real voting, before ballot stuffing, made it possible to re-elect Vladimir Putin as president, while falsifications and exaggerations were for aim to round the numbers up pretty much. This time, the “exit polls” conducted by independent observers on the day of the classic vote, the 1is July, in the big cities, showed that the Electoral Commission had good reasons to take the lead to ensure its rear: in Moscow, the “no” leads to 54.8% against 44.9% for the “yes”, in St. Petersburg 63% said “no” compared to 36.6% for “yes”.

Eroded trust in institutions

What are the real numbers then? “There is none in this plebiscite, writes sociologist Grigori Ioudine. Because we do not know whether to count as authentic the voice of a person who was forced to vote under penalty of dismissal, or that of the person who did not go to vote because he does not trust the process.” On the other hand, he still writes, the results of independent urban polls must be taken seriously because, conducted in places “Preserved as far as possible from fraud and administrative pressure”, they best reflect what would have happened if the ballot had not been arranged.

Read also“Бог, семья, русский народ” – “God, family and Russian people”, the Constitution as seen by Putin

The trend remains unchanged, experts point out, both from the point of view of the intentions and ambitions of the Kremlin, and with regard to public opinion. Confidence in political institutions continues to erode, especially vis-à-vis the federal government and the person of Vladimir Putin. If the amendments to the Constitution had been presented to the popular vote in thematic blocks, as required by law, we would have observed real support for social (indexation of wages and pensions) and ideological (family, children) , the heterosexual couple, the glorification of the ancestors). But the political adjustments, and especially that concerning the resetting to zero of the presidential counter of Vladimir Poutine, are those which raise the least enthusiasm, even a clear rejection.

“We have the impression that the ideological basis of Poutinism is rather accepted by the citizens, but the President himself has ceased to please them”, smiled Schulmann. In 2014, with the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin was at the height of his glory as the embodiment and personification of power, the source of legitimacy for all authorities and all political decisions. But this chandelier tarnishes, the “Crimea effect” fades, and the Russian president begins to function more as a foil. If the objective of the constitutional reform had not been the perpetuation of his personal power, all this circus would not have been useful. No one would have gone to protest against the protection of animals or the Russian language.

According to observers, the level of electoral fraud in this “national vote”, unprecedented since 2011, does not bode well for the upcoming elections. What is more, the “yes” triumphing at 78% does not correspond to the feeling of a substantial part of the electorate, and even more legitimizes, if necessary, the electoral authorities, and, ultimately, the regime.

Veronika Dorman

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