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Andrei Buzin: A counterexample is not found (about refusal to register Masha Gaidar)

I love looking at everything with my own eyes. For example, that is why I went to observe a referendum in Donetsk.

I have a wonderful opportunity to check everything from inside, whether nothing has changed in Moscow after the marvelous Mayor Election in 2013. I had a chance to work with a particularly suitable candidate – Maria Gaidar; I was at least sure that I would not have to experience a deep shame that I had to work with candidates whose headquarters are actually integrated within the state or municipal authorities and election committees, and PR representatives on a regular basis work in the nationalized media.

After a three-week marathon, which ended up today with a refusal to register Maria Gaidar as a candidate, as a result voters will have to choose one of only two candidates, who do not have anything to do with politics (and economics either); respectively, I have no strength to write a long article. So I will be brief. I will just present the main conclusions.

First, one of the Russian election theories was confirmed: it is always possible to reject the registration of a candidate in respect to collected voters’ signatures, if there is a political will. However, in case of Masha the political was less important as the signatures threshold was too high.

Second, as it could be expected, the 3% quota of signatures which must be reached in 22 days should be prohibited. (As an individual spy I wrote regarding this threshold to my American colleague, he simply replied to me regarding that – ‘3% of signatures are indeed ridiculous’ – according to him, 3% is an absurd. According to him it is foolish, but here it is reality). It is a demanding work to collect actual 5000 signatures in a short time during the summer holidays, requiring huge resources in order to attract not only volunteers but also paid personnel for collecting signatures, whose goal is to get fast money.

Third, it is a paradox that as much candidates try to honestly collect signatures, the more difficulties they face while trying to register their candidacy. Paid personnel working honestly and intensively could collect 10–15 signatures per day. But ‘highly qualified’ paid personnel forge 40 signatures per day in a relaxed mode, the higher qualification a person has, the signatures look like more genuine, with blots, different illegible signatures, crumpled sheets, etc.

The signatures forged using the database (of the passport office, Sberbank, sociological service, etc.) quite well match with the data of Federal Migration Service (FMS). However, graphologists can easily detect the forgery; respectively it is necessary to engage a graphologist. A committee is not obliged to invite a graphologist.

In case of Masha, 7 handwriting experts were analyzing the signatures in support of her. When the authenticity of signatures in support of Sobyanin was checked (he had collected 80 000 signatures before the election processes started) graphologists were not invited at all. When Sobyanin was registered as a candidate at the Moscow City Election, I had asked Fayas Fatehovich Khalilulin «whether the classic technology of mass annulment of signatures was used by handwriting experts?» The head of the working group of the Moscow City Election Committee (MCEC) verifying signatures gave a simple answer: ‘These signatures did not arouse suspicion.’

That is why we did not fall into temptation to expose to the commission all we had, so we did not submit perfectly filled in lists to it, which were sufficient.

However another obsticle appeared on our way – FMS. FMS – a different kind of experts; it is pointless to contest their conclusions. At the same time FMS is one more way of mass annulment of signatures.

(Two more mass annulment mechanisms – nitpicking in regard to the template for collecting signatures, which was less frequently used as it was set by law, and in regard to the data provided by personnel in charge of collecting signatures. We have managed to avoid the last ones by carefully checking the data provided by the personnel).

So, if you are a candidate who has an agreement with the government, then you can easily collect even five thousand perfectly presented signatures. It is great we have lots of personal contacts. One can be sure that a half of the signatures in support of almost of all the candidates registered in the Moscow City Duma Election are written in a perfect handwriting.

Fourth, I was surprised by the highly visible inequality among elite parties’ candidates (parliamentary parties + Yabloko) and all the rest. The efforts and resources which self-nominated candidates should apply in order to be registered as a candidate could not be compared with the power of elite parties, despite the pathetic declaration of our Law on ‘Equality of Candidates’.

The last but the most important point is that the electoral system, as the entire state remains extremely hostile to citizens. Election committees pretend they cannot allow citizens to decide themselves whom to elect. They are allegedly ‘forced’ to follow the orders of FMS, handwriting experts or someone else; despite the fact that many of these orders are foolish (there will be more articles written on the low quality of FMS data, to put it mildly). Each small screw of the state mechanism relies on the other little screws, though not the citizens.

Source: Blog of the Co-Chair of the Board of Movement ‘Golos’ Andrei Buzin on the radio station «Echo of Moscow» website

Translated by International Elections Study Center