RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin addresses servicemen as he visits the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria.
(photo credit: MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/REUTERS)
In a few days Russia is going to elect a new president. A man or a woman who is going to respect and protect the civil rights and freedoms outlined in the Russian constitution. And travel around the forcefully emptied streets of Moscow in an armored Mercedes.
This will be my first presidential election as an eligible voter. When Vladimir Putin started his third presidential term, I was 17; I am 23 now, and Putin has almost begun his fourth.
As a passionate lover of all things political, I believe that voting is not only an essential mechanism of the democratic process and formation of civil society, but also my right, privilege and responsibility. No vote equals no opinion, sort of thing. So I grab the ballot paper.
Eight faces stare back at me. Three of them are all too familiar: Vladimir Zhirinovsky, up to his neck in violent, chauvinistic and fascist controversies; Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the “puppet” opposition; and Putin.
The other two are open neo-Stalinists. While Pavel Grudinin describes Joseph Stalin as the best Russian leader in past 100 years, Maxim Suraikin came up with a peculiar name for his party’s platform: “10 Stalinist hits on Capitalism.”
Sergey Baburin, who failed to get re-elected as a Communist candidate to the Duma, has now become the “B Candidate.” Russian political commentators suggest that by introducing the B Candidate the Kremlin is trying to eliminate the danger posed by Grudinin, who has become a popular candidate at the top of an alphabetically-ordered ballot.
Boris Titov, the “invisible candidate,” openly admits that he had to get his candidacy approved by Putin. One of his pre-election pledges is asking for Putin’s permission to return 16 self-exiled Russian businessmen to their homeland.
As I slowly come to terms with the fact that as of 2004 Russian ballots do not offer a “none of the above” option, another candidate catches my attention: Ksenia A. Sobchak.
From the beginning of her campaign, Sobchak billed herself as “candidate against all,” seeking to replace “none of the above” option. She claims to have no real presidential ambition, continuously labels the Russian presidential election fake and decorative, denounces corruption, openly criticizes Putin and puts forward progressive, Western-oriented views.
Her legendary address to the crowd of protesters in 2011 ended her scandalous TV hosting career in a matter of days. She was banned from all state-run television channels and became one of the most active political journalists among the non-systemic opposition. “Do not vote for Ksenia Sobchak,” she tells us, “vote against all.”
This sounds like a plan. As I am about to check the box, something catches my attention. Good posture, blond hair, signature glasses... is that Ksenia Sobchak featured on state-run Channel One? Is that her on Rossiya 24? Now that is what they call a snowball effect.
First, she declares that her candidacy was approved by Putin himself, then she appears on state-run television. Suddenly, journalists and political scientists start to call her “the Kremlin’s project” – a spoiler candidate to inject a veneer of competition and legitimacy into the election.
Keep in mind that the only non-systemic opposition leader with real presidential ambitions, and considerable support, Alexei Navalny, has been barred from running.
It suddenly becomes clear: Russia is not going to elect a new president. The people of Russia are no longer bearers of sovereignty or the source of power. Instead, I feel more like a background actor in a low-budget movie. The type of film you wish you’d never seen, let alone taken part in.
Along with millions of young Russians, I am a first-time voter. If Putin seeks high turnout, being a no-show is the only way to create change.
No, Russia is not going to elect a new president. No one is going to respect and protect the civil right and freedoms outlined in the Russian constitution. But someone is definitely going to travel around emptied streets of Moscow in an armored Mercedes. The same person who had elected himself for the third time when I was 17.
As a passionate lover of all things political, I believe that voting is my right, my privilege and my responsibility. But I have been stripped of that right, and no right equals no responsibility.
So I put down the ballot paper.The author is a Russian journalist currently pursuing a graduate degree in political science at Tel Aviv University.