Petition Factories

The next Russian election, the one that will inevitably elevate Vladimir Putin back to the presidency, is not until next March, but from a Czech source we see the political machine is already hard at work. Předvolební kampaň na ruského prezidenta má první skandál:



“Preliminary campaign for Russian president has its first scandal.” Yes, it’s scandalous, if not quite entirely straightforward, as explained in the accompanying article about the discovery made by opposition activists in Moscow of the wholesale fabrication of signature-petitions being perpetrated in local universities.

Petitions for Putin? you might ask. Actually, no: petitions for one Dmitry Mezencev, currently governor of the Irkutsk region, in far-east Siberia, to enable him to get on the presidential ballot to oppose Putin. Now, how can that make sense? Simple: Russian law unfortunately decrees that no presidential election is valid unless there are at least two qualified candidates running for that office. That means that, even if the opposition could sponsor someone to oppose Putin, they could then turn around and use that candidate’s withdrawal from the race as a threat or weapon to invalidate the results.

So Putin needs some “insurance,” in the form of another candidate who can be called up in time to function as the required opponent. (Not to win, though, by any stretch of the imagination; and the piece assures us that Mezencev is a loyal Putin-man.) But you just can’t announce that you are running for Russian president, as many opposition figures have found out in the past to their cost – you have to be able to show two million valid signatures on petitions for your candidacy, if you are candidate not backed by any party represented in the Duma. Oh-so-many opposition presidential candidates have been dismissed from participation in past presidential elections for allegedly failing to meet this standard.

No time like the present, then, to start getting those petitions ready in case Mezencev needs to be called into action. The article describes how some investigators, including one female reporter from the one-remaining independent Russian radio station, Echo Moscow, easily uncovered petition-fabrication operations happening in lecture-halls of Moscow universities. They were so brazen that there were no guards or security of any kind (until later, when the occupants discovered who was visiting them) as not only students but also pensioners and anyone else in need of some extra money sat filling in names and official ID card numbers into the forms. Not signatures, mind you – that would have been illegal since of course the signatures would not be their own (although the other information was no more their own), but those can presumably be taken care of later, somewhere with a bit better security.

And of course those “visitors” have it on video, here, on something called “Rutube.” Don’t worry: I looked at it myself, it’s not a virus-site or anything like that, it’s just rather remarkable to see the cameraman walk through the lecture-hall where the people are all hard at work at electoral fraud, where he even raises a few of the bogus forms up to the camera-lens.

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