Keeping Your Conscience Clean

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I have not voted since 1993. What is the point in voting for State Duma deputies whose only concern is how to avoid getting dispersed or shot at for disobedience? It is even more pointless to participate in the presidential election when the president has already been appointed.

Even after President Boris Yeltsin ordered government troops to fire on the White House in 1993, I continued going to the polls on election day -- not to vote, but simply out of curiosity. The ballots were long in those days -- long enough to take home and read at one's leisure. They offered a kind of history of post-Soviet political parties. Over time, I built up a nice collection of ballots, but they were eventually lost during some recent remodeling I did at home. I suspect that one of the politically ignorant workers used the ballots to patch up cracks in the wall.

Nonetheless, I can fully understand why some people would want to vote for United Russia. They like the current leadership and are satisfied with their present standard of living. So why shouldn't they express support for their leaders? Even those who are unhappy with their standard of living are nevertheless willing to vote for the current leadership -- probably because it makes them feel more at ease. And I completely understand them.

What I don't understand is those voters who intend to give their vote to the official opposition -- a hopeless and unfortunate group that is just as much a part of the ruling system as the pro-Kremlin parties. They play a very important role -- to lose honestly and consistently in the elections, thus giving the electoral process a necessary dose of democratic legitimacy. This is what pluralism and freedom of choice are all about, right?

I can certainly understand the rationale behind the Kremlin's creation of its own "opposition" parties, but I can't for the life of me understand the people who vote for those parties. This would be like shoppers who buy inferior or defective goods at twice the normal price.

But what leaves me even more bewildered is those who place their votes in the category "none of the above." Although most of these voters are educated people who have a strong interest in politics, they are apparently unable to read the law or are quite rusty in math. All votes cast in the none-of-the-above category are distributed proportionally to the winning parties -- or party, meaning United Russia. Moreover, these apparent protest votes help raise the count for voter turnout, which the Kremlin needs for legitimacy purposes.

You have to give credit to the State Duma, though, for taking pity on voters when it simultaneously eliminated the minimum requirement for voter turnout and removed the none-of-the-above option from ballots. But even if the authorities are willing to leave the voters in peace, the opposition parties are not. The Other Russia coalition is calling on voters to write in the names of its candidates on election ballots, even though the Central Elections Commission has already said these ballots would be considered invalid. It's a bit strange that politicians and supporters of The Other Russia believe that the authorities, who will undoubtedly falsify these elections, would be so honest as to report the actual number of invalidated ballots.

A win for United Russia is inevitable, and the system is designed in such a way that all attempts by the opposition to prevent this victory at the voting booth will, paradoxically, only serve to strengthen the party of power.

I think that politically aware citizens can stay home on Dec. 2 with a clean conscience. Besides, the weather on election day is almost always cold, and voters would prefer not to go out at all, except, perhaps, to go shopping for New Year's gifts.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.