A Russian exercise in re-selection

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 20, 2021

Russia as visualised by TVOntario, a Canadian publicly funded English language educational television station

Why cover the Russian exercise as an election?

On Sunday, September 19, two days after Russians started to cast something that was called a vote, exit polls were clear: President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party was expected to maintain its grip over the State Duma, or lower house.

The whole thing was confirmed the next day.

Much of the world’s media reported the developments as even-handedly as possible. The regime’s assertions were carried first; then came the opposition lament and the crisp claims by independent observers that the three-day parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair.

It felt a bit of a cop-out, somewhat like Apple and Google’s craven response to the Russian government’s reported threat to arrest their employees in the country if they didn’t shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in the so-called election. Apple and Google did. And promptly.

But then Apple and Google are businesses. Their purpose is basically to sell something, stay afloat and be as successful as they can. They aren’t necessarily dedicated to safeguarding political and civil liberties, uphold human rights and resist the pressures exerted by authoritarian governments.

Media outlets, however, have an obligation to tell it like it is. So here’s the question: why call the three-day exercise in Russia an election? The opposition was locked up; alternative lists were not allowed to be circulated and even the OSCE refused to send election monitors because of the limitations imposed by Mr Putin’s government.

In contrast to the reportage on the Russian so-called election, here’s how the recent exercise in Hong Kong was described by The Economist:

“Hong Kong held its first elections without even the semblance of an opposition — by a system China introduced to ensure that ‘patriots rule Hong Kong’. On Sunday 4,380 people selected a 1,500-person ‘election committee’, which will pick some legislators in December and the territory’s chief executive next year. Hong Kong’s vocal pro-democracy opposition has been dismantled since huge anti-government protests in 2019.”

In the circumstances, it might have been more accurate to have described the whole shebang in Russia as exercise in re-selection.