“Unprecedented fight for turnout.”

The Toronto Star has given this title to an AP story on today’s election in Russia:

With a Putin election win in little doubt, Russian voters pressured to get turnout numbers up.

At Al Jazeera, Mariya Petkova’s report appears under these headings:

Russia’s elections: ‘Unprecedented fight for turnout’
Is Vladimir Putin tired of the electoral game? And is he anxious about a low turnout?

These titles draw the reader’s attention, as they should, to the most striking feature of this election campaign (aside from the No. 1 opposition figure getting disqualified):

Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg, said in a recent video blog that local officials and state employees have all received orders “from higher up” to make sure that the presidential vote turnout is over 60 per cent.

“They are using everything: schools, kindergartens, hospitals — the battle for the turnout is unprecedented”…

Yes, “the battle” is for the turnout, not directly for Putin’s share of the vote, and, agreed, it is by all signs unprecedented. Alexei Navalny, barred from running under a spurious pretext, has called for boycotting the election and, on the other hand, “rallied an army of observers” to the polling stations.

The scope of Navalny’s observation effort underscores the scope of his grassroots support. His words are backed up by daily reports of his volunteers being arrested and harassed:

…we can already see that absolutely unprecedented measures are being taken to destroy our network: people are being arrested every day, they are withdrawing our accreditation, closing our headquarters. Another wave of arrests is in motion. And it is connected, of course, with our supervision of polls.

The Kremlin and its regional underlings are always certain their candidate will win – “win” – and yet they always live in fear. Life must be particularly difficult for the regional authorities, who must feel pressured by Navalny’s volunteers “from below” and by the Kremlin “from above.” But at this stage, they must fear punishment from the Kremlin for underperformance so much that falsifications on a large scale are virtually inevitable.

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