It’s been a busy few days for Russian elections news, so I thought I’d roundup a few of the key stories that caught my eye.
Webcams in every polling station
In his recent marathon TV interview, Vladimir Putin proposed placing webcams in every single polling station during March’s Presidential election. The proposal came in reaction to criticism that United Russia’s victory in the Duma elections was due to fraud – namely ballot stuffing.
And, today, Putin put a price on this proposal. According to RIA Novosti a staggering $470 million has been allocated to the task of putting a webcam in every single one of Russia’s 95,000 polling stations.
Great, some will say – spending so much money on blanket coverage webcams is a wonderful way of demonstrating Russia’s commitment to holding free and fair elections. Sceptics, such as myself, might take a moment to divide $470 million by 95,000 and wonder why Russia is spending $4,947 per webcam.
Old Warriors break out their Zimmer frames and stand for election
Almost all of the candidates for the Presidential election have now been nominated by their parties, and rather depressingly it will surprise no-one to discover that almost of them have contested at least one previous Presidential election.
- Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate, has contested three of the last four Presidential elections, finishing second each time (always the bridesmaid…).
- Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party’s ageing standard bearer, goes one better by entering his fifth election.
- Grigory Yavlinsky, the Yabloko candidate, will be – assuming he collects the required 2 million signatures – entering the race for Russia’s top job for the third time. He stood for election in 1996 and 2000, so I guess he’s at least had a chance to take a break and recover his vitality.
- Sergei Mironov, who’ll be representing A Just Russia, is a relative rookie – he’s only taking part in his second election.
In fact, the only complete newcomer in the race* is independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov – and that’s assuming that, like Yavlinsky, he manages to secure the 2 million signatures that any candidate who isn’t nominated by a Duma party needs to get to enter the race.
(* I’m assuming that Dmitry Mezentsev, the Irkutsk Governor who has agreed to stand as the emergency reserve candidate in the event that no-one else is eligible, isn’t actually going to appear on the ballot.)
Small candidates get kicked out
As was also expected, the fringe candidates are being rejected on technical grounds, one by one. Eduard Lminov, head of the Other Russia party is one notable victim – he was denied registration because he didn’t have the right papers, despite his novel approach of collecting signatures on the bus. Nikolai Levashov – the faith healer who cures people over the phone – was knocked back because he didn’t meet residency requirements, and Boris Mironov bit the dust because of a prior criminal conviction for extremism.
Looking on the bright side, each of these candidates has had their day or two in the media spotlight, and they’ve been saved the hassle of having to spend months on the buses trying to do the impossible and collect two million signatures. On balance, I suspect they’re rather glad the way things have turned out.
First, the plan is to have one to three web cameras at each polling station, i.e. there will be quite a few more than 95,000 in total. So the average price will be lower. Second, there aren’t near so many web cameras available for sale in Russia or even the entire former USSR as will be required to cover every polling station – many will presumably have to be ordered from China for express delivery, which will inflate costs. Third, they will also have to set up the data centers to stream footage live over the Internet, again at short notice. Bearing all this in mind, I do not think the $470 million figure has to be especially afflicted with kickbacks to be realistic.