Putin in Helsinki, August 22, 2019:
Russian opposition members were banned from running for Moscow’s legislature because they had submitted “falsified” signatures, President Vladimir Putin has said, playing down the election protests that rocked the capital this summer…
“This was not a mistake, this was [a] falsification,” Putin said alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki, noting that “these candidates had violated the law.”
Funny that he should say this. All the evidence I’m aware of suggests exactly the opposite: pro-government candidates had the motive and opportunity to cheat, and election commissions had the motive and opportunity to cover up their cheating.
A few months ago, the Moscow city government acknowledged that United Russia, the ruling party – of which Putin is the honorary leader although not a card-carrying member – had become unpopular to the point of toxicity. Accordingly, the mayor’s election headquarters ordered pro-government candidates in the upcoming city hall election to stand as independents. However, only candidates nominated by parties with a representation in the federal Duma can bypass the signature collection requirement – designed by United Russia to keep independents from running.
In other words, the ruling party got caught in the trap it had set for its adversaries in Moscow. The opposition realized the difficulty of gathering so many signatures and got down to business at once: they set up tents all over town, they sent out door-to-door signature collectors, and Alexey Navalny’s team opened a space close to the city center to help all opposition-supporting Muscovites identify the right candidates and leave signatures for them.
On the other hand, pro-government candidates were nowhere to be seen during the four weeks allowed for the signature collection. At the deadline, they came out of nowhere with all the signatures required. The electoral commissions promptly declared those lists valid but refused to show them to other candidates or have them independently checked. A rather different standard was applied to independent, pro-opposition candidates. Typically, a signature would be declared invalid on a whim, such as “our graphologist doubts its authenticity.” Quite a few people complained that their perfectly genuine signatures were arbitrarily struck off the lists, to which the commissions typically responded with some variety of “so what?”