Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, has been cracking down on opposition politicians and independent media in order to influence the fast-approaching Duma elections. The latest move by Russian authorities seeks to suppress Kremlin opposition Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting strategy. Smart Voting identifies the alternative party candidates who have the best chance to beat United Russia in various election districts and attempts to rally support behind them.
The Smart Voting website has been blocked and a Moscow arbitration court banned Google and Yandex from displaying search results for the phrase. This came about after the Stavropol company Vulintertrade, which sells sheep's wool, registered a trademark for Smart Voting in June and filed a lawsuit for exclusive rights to the phrase in September. Last Friday the courts upheld the company’s claim. A Yandex spokesperson said: “We don’t agree with the court’s ruling and plan to challenge the injunctive measures applied.” Navalny supporters are urged to use the app to access Smart Voting resources instead. Russian officials are attempting to get the app taken off of Google and Apple stores, threatening fines if the companies fail to comply.
Meanwhile, a number of doppelgänger candidates have appeared on the ballots. In St. Petersburg, voters will have to choose between three nearly identical Boris Vishnevskys. One of the Vishnevskys, a member of the liberal Yabloko Party and a long-time Kremlin critic, claims the doubles changed their names and grew beards before joining the race specifically to confuse voters. A complaint by Vishnevsky demanding that these candidates list their previous names on the ballot was rejected. The only way to distinguish the candidates is by their ages and patronymics. Opposition candidate Ilya Yashin, running in eastern Moscow, also has a double named Alexeyi Yashin. In July, Kommersant found 24 pairs of nominees with similar or identical surnames.
Finally, the independent media source Novaya Gazeta published a leaked recording of a training session in which election workers are taught how to falsify votes. Russia’s Central Election Commission has launched an inquiry into the recording.