Virtually no critic of the Kremlin is allowed to stand for election to parliament or the State Duma. The control of this body is seen as a key element of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate his grip on power before the next presidential election, scheduled for 2024. Putin has already ruled Russia since 2000.
The smart voting strategy could provide the only political intrigue in an election that has little overall drama, with very few opposition candidates allowed to run.
HOW DOES SMART VOTING WORK?
Smart Voting, an idea Navalny came up with in 2018, is an online service designed to promote candidates who have the best chance of defeating those backed by the Kremlin and the United Russia Party. He does not promote any particular opposition party.
Navalny’s top strategist Leonid Volkov told The Associated Press that Smart Voting monitors and analyzes hundreds of campaigns and will support around 1,300 candidates, not only for the State Duma ballot, but also for various elections. regional events that take place on the same day.
In the State Duma elections, all 450 seats are at stake, and United Russia currently holds 334.
Half of the Duma, or 225 seats, is elected directly by the voters. But voters also make a second choice on the ballot for the other half of the seats, which are drawn from the party lists. There will be 14 political parties on the September 19 poll, and voters will choose one of them to send another representative to the Duma.
For this second choice, Volkov said Smart Voting would recommend selecting any party other than United Russia that is likely to exceed the 5% threshold required to win a seat.
WHAT WAS SUCCESSFUL?
Smart voting has been used twice in regional elections in the past two years and has proven to be quite effective. In 2019, he helped opposition candidates win 20 of 45 Moscow city council seats, and last year’s regional elections saw United Russia lose its majority in the city legislatures of Novosibirsk, Tambov and Tomsk.
Volkov admits that smart voting has “rather limited resources:”
“We have won local battles, but we cannot say that we are omnipotent. … There is a long way to go. So far, around 15-20% of the candidates approved by Smart Voting have won seats in legislative assemblies, ”he added.
WHAT IS KREMLIN’S RESPONSE?
In recent months, authorities have unleashed a sweeping crackdown on allies and supporters of Navalny in a massive effort to suppress smart voting.
After recovering from poisoning with a nerve agent last year, Navalny was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for parole violation for a conviction. He says the poisoning and sentencing were politically motivated – accusations the Kremlin denies.
Its main allies have been indicted on criminal charges and its Anti-Corruption Foundation, as well as a network of regional offices, have been banned as extremist organizations. This exposed hundreds of people associated with the groups to prosecution. Many of its main collaborators have left the country. About 50 websites managed by his team have been blocked and dozens of regional offices have been closed.
The authorities have also decided to block the Smart Voting website, but some Internet users can still access it.
Authorities urged Apple and Google to remove the mobile app designed by Navalny’s team to promote smart voting, warning them that their failure would be interpreted as interference in the Russian election.
They also demanded that Google and Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, remove references to smart voting from search results. So far, the demands have not been met.
Volkov said the multi-pronged attack disrupted operations, intimidated supporters and made it harder to promote smart voting. There have been fewer online registrations on its website this year.
At the same time, however, the mobile app saw record downloads last month, and “that’s cool,” Volkov said.
HOW WAS IT RECEIVED IN RUSSIAN POLICY?
Smart Voting has been criticized by independent candidates and opposition groups for failing to support those who are genuinely against Kremlin policies. He has indeed supported nominee opposition party candidates who almost always follow the Kremlin line.
Navalny’s team maintains that smart voting is not about voting for an ideal candidate, but rather defeating politicians backed by United Russia and the Kremlin. Volkov said the aim is to disrupt and directly challenge a system that, in Putin’s two decades in power, has already decided who will get a seat and who will not.
“They have already allocated offices and positions, they have already defined who will become deputy. … We want to bring people into the picture, when all of a sudden candidates at all levels realize that the voter is also present in this equation, and they should look to the voter ”, a- he declared.
Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center says smart voting is “a technical instrument aimed at undermining the structure that authorities would like to see as perfectly ideal.”
Attempts to disrupt the system are “painful” for the authorities, and “that is why they take smart voting seriously, they take Navalny seriously,” he said.
CAN IT CHANGE THE ELECTORAL PLANS OF THE KREMLIN DUMA?
Putin expressed hope last month that United Russia will continue to dominate parliament. Recent polls, however, have shown that only 27% of Russians are ready to vote for the party.
Nonetheless, political analysts believe that it will be difficult for the opposition to ensure widespread use of smart voting.
“The authorities will do everything to completely block information about the candidates (approved by Smart Voting), so I think this system will not be widely used by the electorate,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of R.Politik, a group of political reflection. .
Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, stressed that Navalny, with his political authority and charisma, will no longer have the opportunity to advocate for smart voting as much as before.
“You don’t vote for a perfect candidate who matches you personally; you often vote for someone who is stylistically and ideologically disagreeable. … You need a strong motive, you need someone with authority to urge them to do it, ”said Gallyamov. While Navalny has that authority, his allies don’t, he added.
Still, Gallyamov believes at least 15% of voters could use smart voting.
“The feeling of protest, the discontent is there; they haven’t gone anywhere, ”he said.
Volkov does not offer numbers when asked what would constitute success. The most important thing, he said, is that smart voting “changes the general perception of how the political system works” and undermines the Kremlin’s power vertical, bringing back competitive politics and making voters count. .
“Even more politicians will start to think about voters in the next election or the next political event,” he said.